I was a visa officer

For the past two years plus two weeks, my job was to interview people who wanted a visa to go to the United States. I interviewed over 27,000 people. To be exact, I adjudicated 27,377 cases. I said “yes” 18,936 times, and “no” 8,441 times. Every interview was different, of course, but there have been some specific categories of applicants.

Talking with some kinds of people was very pleasant. I really enjoyed issuing visas to these people:

  • Parents who were going to America to see their child graduate from University. Especially if the parents were farmers, and their child was getting a PhD from an Ivy League university. Every time that happened, I said to myself: that’s the American dream.
  • Gay couples who are going to America to get married, even though they knew that their marriage would not be recognized by their own government when they returned, but who wanted the chance to express their love and commitment to each other, in a country that had a legal mechanism for them to do that. I especially remember the lesbian couple who were going to the US to try to conceive via in vitro fertilization. I really hope that they succeed.
  • Children who wanted to experience the wonder of Disneyland, and their parents who wanted the same thing. I always smiled when the parents say that their kid has always wanted to see Mickey Mouse, and the kid is 9 months old. You aren’t fooling me, dude, it’s you who wants to wear the mouse ears!
  • Newlyweds who wanted to honeymoon in Hawaii, because they think it’s the most romantic place on earth. Hard to argue with them.
  • The woman traveling to the U.S. with her “boyfriend” for two weeks. She was 75 years old, he was 80. They were holding hands like teenagers. Very cute.

There have also been some unpleasant interviews.

  • The student who is going to a very expensive university, barely making passing grades, wasting a lot of his parents’ money, without seeming to care.
  • Family members going to make final arrangements for a relative who recently died while in America. That happened too often for me.
  • The person who wanted to go see a family member in America, who, because he committed a crime on his last trip, is now permanently ineligible for a U.S. visa.
  • Parents who believe that they are going to see their child in America, unaware that their child has flunked out of college, is in America illegally, and is doing who knows what.
  • The applicant with a stack of documents showing evidence of their job, house, bank statements, documents that were all clearly fake.

I think that I was able to help people, in different ways.

  • A person was was applying for a visa for the second time. Reading the case notes from the first interview, it was clear that the applicant was qualified for a visa, but for some reason, he just choked on the interview the first time around. The visa interview is a high-pressure situation for the applicants. Maybe he was calmer this time around, and maybe I was able to help him communicate his situation.
  • I refused a woman who was clearly unqualified for a visa, and who I suspected was planning to engage in illegal activities like prostitution in the U.S. By refusing her visa, maybe I kept her out of an American jail.
  • A man going to the U.S. on business, clearly a successful young businessman, whose mother happened to be living in the U.S. Is he planning to visit her? I asked. Probably not, was the answer. His parents divorced when he was a kid, his mom remarried and emigrated to the U.S. He hasn’t had any contact with her ever since. After issuing his visa, I mentioned that regardless of the past, a mother would probably be thrilled to hear from her son after so many years, and encouraged him to look her up when he was in the U.S. Maybe he did.
  • The young couple, clearly very poor, whose 9-month-old child has a rare form of eye cancer that can’t be treated in China. They said that they got a lot of donations to help them pay for the treatment, and I chose to believe them.

And of course there were cases that I just couldn’t figure out.

  • Like the couple who were applying together. She was married to his boss. They claimed that he was going with her to “help” her on vacation, as part of his job. Yeah, right. My guess is that they were having an affair, and were sneaking off to Las Vegas for a hot weekend of illicit nooky. After I asked for a work contract from his boss, to prove that he was really going for work, I never heard from them again. What a surprise.
  • Or the divorced couple who claimed that they wanted to get back together, and were using a stressful international trip to a country where they don’t speak the language, to rekindle the romance. Good luck with that.
  • And the young man who was dismissed from college because he had mental health problems. He wanted to go to the U.S. to talk with the school and ask them to re-admit him. Did he have an appointment with the school officials? No, and in fact, the school asked him to contact them via Skype. But he thought that it would be “better” for him to show up unannounced in person. That would not have ended well.

My “tour” is now over, and I am moving on to my next assignment. I am sure that I will never forget this tour. The last two years were educational and rewarding. I worked with some excellent people. It’s probably too much to hope that my next tour will be as memorable as this one. So I will cherish the memories of this experience. I have been very lucky. Good-bye, China, and thanks for an eventful two years. It’s been a strange experience. I’m sure that I will see you again some time.

Onward and upward.

One Comment

  1. Pat McConeghy

    This is a great post, Dennie. Wish I had done something similar when I stopped teaching, reflecting on the various types of students one encounters along the way!

    Haven’t been following your blog lately (yeah, I know, my bad) so don’t know about your new assignment. Where are you headed?

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