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June 12th, 2014:

The summer busy season is here

Summer is the time for vacations, and a lot of Chinese people want to vacation in the U.S. I heard that the average Chinese tourist spends more on a U.S. vacation than the average foreign tourist does. Tourism is good for the American economy in general, and Chinese tourism is very good for the American economy.

Here’s where it gets complicated: every person who wants to visit the U.S. needs a visa. The current law requires that every person who wants a visa must be interviewed by a consular officer (like me) at a U.S. embassy or consulate. So, during the summer travel season, we consular officers are very busy with visa interviews. Since we are a relatively small consulate, we “only” do between 400 and 600 interviews a day, among the officers. We are expected to average about 80-100 interviews per person per day.

Tourists aren’t the only ones applying for visas. College students are also getting ready to go to the U.S. to study in American universities (also very good for the American economy). In addition to tourists, we are also busy interviewing college students who need their student visas. Those interviews are a little easier, because they usually speak good English. Tourist visa interviews, on the other hand, are almost always done in Chinese.

We do visa interviews in the mornings, but our work doesn’t end when we stop interviewing. There is additional paperwork and administrative processing that we have to do on visas. However, since we have such a large volume of visa applicants, we started doing interviews in the afternoons a few days a week. That added workload puts more pressure on the other services that we provide, such as serving American citizens in the consular area. We manage to get everything done (barely), but we have to multitask, help each other, and work as fast as we can. It’s a high-pressure work environment, but I really like it. It helps to have good coworkers. The days go by quickly.

This afternoon we did a special outreach program: an online forum where people can ask questions about visas. Three consular officers, with the help of locally engaged staff members, fielded questions from people in the area. The participants were asking questions in Chinese, and we answered in Chinese. The local staff helped the officers read the questions. We answered the questions in our rough Chinese, and the local staff cleaned up our grammar and typed our answers. The session only lasted for an hour, and it was a lot of fun. I can’t wait to do it again.

The summer season is busy, and a there’s a lot of pressure to get everything done, but I’m really enjoying my work.

Life is good.