Visas for Humanitarian Causes

I received an anonymous comment in response to my entry entitled “Iraqi Boy Has Heart Surgery in U.S.”.  I’m sorry it was submitted anonymously, as we now can’t judge the bona fides of the author nor ask direct questions, but the comment shows a familiarity with visa issues and is well-addressed to my entry.  The author suggests I look at the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) for information regarding travel to the U.S. for medical purposes.  That brings up a good question; are the FAMs (a multiple-volume publication) available to the public?  I suppose they could be.  Most of the volumes are unclassified.  But now I digress.

I’m completely convinced that the young Iraqi got a visa to the U.S. only because of the involvement of the military’s humanitarian office.  That is to say, I believe that other young Iraqis with similar, though perhaps not as urgent, needs will not get visas unless there is heavy duty intervenion on their behalf.  Conversely, I’m convinced that the young Palestinian with the broken jaw would not have gotten a visa without considerable outside attention.  I know from personal experience that many hardluck cases are not given visas because the vice consul adjudicating (judging, or considering) the application isn’t convinced–because of economic and political circumstances–that the applicant will return, no matter how real and compelling their case. 

Visa law isn’t cut and dried.  A vice consul sits as a judge and relies heavily on the term “convinced”.  In a country troubled by domestic uncertainties, the vice consul (I speak for myself and the colleagues I knew and spoke with) starts the day with the ingrained assumption that most of the applicants do not want to use their visitor’s visa for a short, legal visit.  Instead, each applicant has to oversome that assumption that they intend to remain in the U.S. by evidence and correct responses to questions.  In the case of a young Palestinian during the intifada, when universities were closed and unemployment was high, there was almost nothing–not even a broken body–that could convince a vice consul to issue a visa.

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