More on Visas for Humanitarian Causes

I was pleased to see that Anonymous has commented again on my entry regarding helping persons in need overseas. I urge all to read the comment.  (I can only assume it is the same author, based on content and style.)  It expresses well how complex the whole matter of visas can be.  The commenter also tells the legal channels for seeking admittance to the United States for someone desiring humanitarian aid.

I refer again to my personal experience on the issuing side of the visa window to opine that a young Palestinian, barring some unusual outside influence, was unlikely to get a visa to the U.S. for medical care, no matter how urgent, during the early years of the intifada, given the high levels of unemployment and the scanty chances for education and prosperity.  I still recall vividly the pleasant young Lebanese woman who applied for a visa in Tel Aviv saying that she just wanted a break from the misery of life as a nurse in a Beirut hospital.  She even brought along photos of victims of the violence to convince me that her life was hard and that she needed to get away for a short time.  Little did she know (I suppose) that her attempts to win my sympathy were ruining her chances to get a visa by showing me what little reason she had for wanting to return.  She didn’t get a visa.

A colleague who worked as a vice consul in Abu Dhabi during the Iran-Iraq war expressed his anguish over denying visas to young Iranian applicants with the knowledge they were thus less likely to escape conscription, war, and possible death.  But the principal legal standard for issuing visas is being convinced that the applicant intends to use the visa for its stated legal purpose of a short visit to the United States followed by a return to home.  In practice, this means that the applicant must overcome a presumption that they do not intend to overstay the limitations of the visa.  That’s a tough standard in times of domestic turmoil.  I stick by my assertion that outside influences can help overcome the near-automatic denial of the visa application in such situations.

Regarding the commenter’s mention of a “gentleman’s agreement” to not overturn the decision of another vice consul, I thank Anonymous for admitting that it exists.  I used to think that any application was to be judged on its merits, regardless of how it had been judged previously by other consular officials.  True, a previous denial by another vice consul meant almost certain denial upon a second application.  (The first denial was, in those days, stamped in the passport and entered into a lookout database.  I’m not sure if that’s still the case.)  But I was still quite surprised when a vice consul at a nearby consulate berated me for issuing a visa that he had denied.  For starters, how did he know?  That was scary.  Secondly, why did he care?  Was my judgment not as valid as his?  Was I not able to consider the newly presented merits of the application upon the second attempt?

The case involved a young Israeli couple that had recently become engaged and wanted to get the blessing of her parents in the United States before proceeding with the wedding.  Their first application was denied because the vice consul, by his own admission, felt certain that the couple would stay in the U.S. and was using the visa as a shortcut to the longer and more difficult legal proceedings for bringing in a foreign spouse as an immigrant.  He told the couple that they could get the in-laws blessing by phone or have them come to Israel.

When I considered their application, I asked them where they planned to be married (Answer: Israel) and where they planned to have the reception.  (Answer: They had already booked a room at a hotel in Jerusalem.)  Asking them to wait a moment, I stepped away from the interview window, phoned the hotel, confirmed the reservation, and returned to tell them that I would grant her a visa.  It was shortly thereafter that my colleague chewed me out for my apparent disregard for his judgment.

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