– By Domani Spero
In June this year, we blogged about the potential termination of the SIV program for Iraqis who have worked for or on behalf of the U.S. Government in Iraq (See Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa Program: Potential Termination on September 30, 2013). The recent OIG inspection report on the US Embassy in Baghdad and it constituent posts indicate that the impending termination of Iraqi SIVs at the end of September this year has not been publicized because US Embassy Baghdad, and the Bureaus of Consular Affairs (CA), and Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) expect the program to be extended.
On September 12, USCIS sent a reminder and issued a statement that authorization for the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program for Iraqi nationals who worked for or on behalf of the United States government will expire on Sept. 30, 2013. Individuals applying under this program, including family members, must be admitted to the United States or adjust their statuses before Oct. 1, 2013.
The program was created by Section 1244 of Public Law 110-181, as amended by Public Law 110-242. It covers Iraqi nationals who—during the period between March 20, 2003, and the present—have been employed by or on behalf of the United States government in Iraq for a period of not less than one year. The expiration date also applies to spouses and unmarried child(ren) accompanying or following to join the principal applicant.
As announced at its inception, the Iraqi SIV program will expire on Sept. 30, 2013, at 11:59 p.m. EDT unless Congress extends the program. After Sept. 30, 2013, USCIS will reject any petitions or applications filed based on the Iraqi SIV program. Beginning Oct. 1, 2013, USCIS will suspend processing of any pending Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, or Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, filed based on the Iraqi SIV program.
For updates, please check our website at www.uscis.gov or call the National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283. You can also find useful information on the U.S Embassy in Iraq’s website at http://iraq.usembassy.gov/siv-special.html.
If the program will expire in three weeks, and the individual has to be admitted to the United States before October 1, 2013, the door is left with just a crack. Who can get an SIV in three weeks and slip into that crack?
Matt Zeller, a United States Army veteran of the Afghan War and a Fellow with the Truman National Security Project writes about a specific visa case, under a similar program in Afghanistan:
From 2011 until July 2013, Janis waited for word that the State Department had approved his visa. Several times the US embassy in Kabul asked him to file additional paperwork and even appear for medical and personal interviews. At every appointment Janis would ask how much longer the process would take, but no one could ever give him a more specific answer other than “months to years.”[...] Going through this complicated process educated me beyond imagination. I’m convinced that the current visa program, while well intentioned, cannot succeed as designed. [...] for Janis to receive his visa, organizations such as the FBI, Homeland Security, and State Department all had to individually approve his visa application during their security background investigation, using their own individual opaque databases.
Something else Mr. Zeller did. He started a Change.org petition and he and Janis did media interviews (by phone from Kabul). Yahoo! News reportedly published the first story about Janis on Sept. 6, and within hours the petition had thousands of signatures. Here is the HuffPo Live video interview.
Mr. Zeller, a forceful advocate for the person who saved his life also asked supporters to contact their members of Congress and get these elected officials to write and call the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the State Department, and anyone else they thought could help expedite Janis’ visa for approval. Note that visa petitions are approved by DHS, once approved, only then can visas be issued by State. By the time it was over, and 104,588 signatures later, Mr. Zeller won his campaign to secure a visa for Janis Shinwari, his interpreter while he was in Afghanistan. Now he is on a mission to save his other interpreter, Ehsan.
We admire what Mr. Zeller is doing for his interpreters. But we worry about applicants who qualify for SIVs both in Afghanistan and Iraq but do not have vocal advocates for their cases. In a perfect world, we don’t need a Matt Zeller or a change.org for the US Embassy in Kabul or Baghdad to issue these visas. But the fact that Janis received a visa after a change.org petition and after a lot of press noise, tells us something folks already know — the system is not working as it should but one person can make a difference. If Mr. Zeller can replicate this campaign with Ehsan’s case, we suspect that in short order, the State Department will be swamped with similar campaigns.
Alan Cutter is a Presbyterian reverend who served in the US Navy from 1969-1975. He also worked as teacher at the Naval Academy Preparatory School and is currently a member of the International Conference of War Veteran Ministers. He wrote Learning to come home from war: no one said ‘thank you’ to Vietnam vets for The Guardian.
What has not changed over the centuries is the profaneness of war; the frustration of returning to a society preoccupied with mindless vicarious thrill seeking, enthralled by “reality” shows; the loneliness one feels even in the midst of a crowd; the terror of the unexpected sight or sound or smell; the rage so easily triggered; and the profound disquiet of the wounded soul.
I am waiting for someone to say “Forgive me?” That question both admits complicity for what happened and initiates a conversation. I’d like to tell that person this: my friend, we share responsibility. I’m proud to have served my country, even if it meant going to Vietnam. I’m sinfully proud of having been both an enlisted man and an officer. I did my best in an untenable situation. But I wasn’t prepared for the haunted eyes in the refugee camp, or the cries of the wounded, or the angry, wary stares of the villagers. Forgive us, yes, if that will ease your mind. But if you will stay and listen to the story, then together we may find salve for our wounded souls.
Thus begins the risky pathway of healing. Will you, beloved and fortunate citizen, do that duty for some returning warrior who has served our nation?
Read in full here.
This might be of interest to our regular readers but may be particularly helpful to State’s EFMs and third culture spouses. Coursera is offering a 7-week long online course on financial planning for free.
About the Course | This course was created to help those who cannot afford extensive planning assistance better understand how to define and reach their financial goals. It provides basic understanding so informed decisions can be made. The course can also be seen as a reference for individual topics that are part of personal financial planning.
Week One: Where Are You? Where Are You Going?
Week Two: Taxes
Week Three: Defense — Insurance
Week Four: Investing
Week Five: Funding Retirement
Week Six: Doing the Math and Making Reasonable Assumptions;
Week Seven: Estate Planning
The course is taught by Avi Pai, CFP®, CRPC®, AIF® , a Managing Partner and a Certified Financial Planner Practitioner with the Irvine office of Provence Wealth Management Group (LPL Financial). The class started on Jan 14 so you can still catch up. Sign up here.
This course is offered by Coursera, a start-up in the fast-evolving arena of free online college courses. Check it out.
State/OIG recently posted online its compliance follow-up review (CFR) of our two posts in Thailand, the US Embassy in Bangkok and USCG Chiang Mai. Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney arrived in Bangkok in January 2011, while her DCM, Judith B. Cefkin, arrived at post in July 2010.
Below are the main key judgments:
Here’s Ambassador Kenney and DCM Cefkin in their matching blue dresses during the embassy’s Fourth of July celebration.
And it’s not just the Front Office
The report says that overall embassy morale is also high and from the looks of it, the whole mission works so well, the OIG could have used a thesaurus to avoid multiple repeats of words like excellent and effective.
The Ambassador’s use of social media makes her stand out in Thailand. Almost 30,000 Thai receive her personal tweets; retransmission by the embassy’s Twitter feed extends her immediate reach by another 40,000. She also has a Facebook page and a blog. To accommodate the Thai preference for broadcast rather than print news and opinion, the Ambassador posts video commentary on YouTube for the local television channels to pick up. Although the terseness required by Twitter has on occasion generated some public misunderstanding, the Ambassador’s skillful management of her public persona is a huge asset to the mission.
Seriously, it’s not often that we get to see a review like this.
The only other item that strikes us in this report is apparently, ELOs in the consular section are working considerable amounts of overtime, but are not claiming compensation. The CFR team reportedly heard anecdotal evidence that the officers were working on average several hours of overtime per week. The OIG recommended that “Embassy Bangkok should implement a plan so that entry-level officers in the consular section seek approval and claim compensation for the hours of overtime they work.”
Sometimes, the boss person at Consular Sections are known to frown … um, discourage entry level officers from claiming overtime pay. So newbies don’t even attempt to file claims. We hope that’s not the case here and those folks get paid for all work that are more than eight hours per day or 40 hours per week. Read the 2012 AFSA Guidance on Overtime and Comp Time for FS Specialists and FS Untenured Generalists Serving Overseas.
-06/30/12 Compliance Followup Review of Embassy Bangkok and Consulate General Chiang Mai, Thailand (ISP-C-12-33A) [914 Kb] Posted Online by State/OIG on July 24, 2012
MSNBC’s Rock Center is running a segment tonight on foreign exchange students sexually abused in youth programs overseen by the State Department. Below is a 4:25 minute teaser:
According to the AP, citing State Department spokesman Mark Toner, the department received 43 allegations of sexual abuse since the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year.
Furthermore, AP quotes from Mr. Toner’s email:
“From the State Department’s point of view and the Secretary of State’s point of view, even one child abused under these programs is one child too many. That is why we’ve undertaken a number of reforms to strengthen the program.”
The AP piece also cited Danielle Grijalalva, executive director of the Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students, who said she has found dozens of cases of sexual abuse over the years and forwarded the complaints to the State Department. Yet the agency has done little to investigate them. Ms. Grijalalva said:
“The State Department is watching exchange agencies like the Catholic Church watched its (pedophile) priests.”
Ouchy! That’s not/not a public diplomacy win.
In 2009 in the wake of another foreign exchange blowup in the press, State’s Inspector General Office did a limited review at the request of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and the Acting Assistant Secretary of ECA to “determine the level of the Department’s oversight of secondary school exchange programs.” The OIG says that the purpose of that review was to assess monitoring procedures within ECA and their effectiveness as oversight tools.
Its Recommendation 4 at that time says:
The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs should establish a standard requirement based on objective criteria to conduct national criminal history checks of host families to ensure uniformity and adequacy of information provided by third-party background check companies. (Action: ECA)
Apparently, the pilot use of FBI fingerprint checks had been ditched due Congress’ inability to provide appropriate funding and to budget shortfalls.
The 2009 OIG report was not the first one conducted on this subject. The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in February 1990, United States Information Agency: Inappropriate uses of Educational and Cultural Visas1, reported problems with program monitoring and oversight. The Department’s OIG audit in September 2000,2 found that the Office of Exchange Visitor Programs was unable to effectively monitor and oversee the exchange visitor program primarily because of inadequate resources. Finally, the 2006 GAO report to the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims, Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives3 found that State had “not exerted sufficient management oversight…and has been slow to address program deficiencies.”
Can you imagine if American kids on foreign exchange were abused overseas? As much as I’d like to point at Congress for not providing appropriate resources here, the State Department also does not have a track record of oversight that goes back at least a decade. The latest OIG report on this subject is dated 2009. The 43 allegations of sexual abuse occurred since the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year. So whatever reforms were made to strengthen the program from October 2009 onwards did not do a whole lot.
That’s one plus 42 allegations too many. As for watching them like a hawk, sorry Toria, probably not the best way to put it – makes one think the hawks were asleep through this.
Clarification from State’s spokesperson when asked about the AP story during today’s DPB:
MS. NULAND: Yeah. This was an AP story that was incorrect today. And as you know, we have called your reporter and asked for a correction. It asserted that there was an opportunity to give FBI background checks to American host families before foreign students came and stayed in their homes.
In fact, we would need legislation in order to make use of the FBI’s database for this purpose. We had a small pilot program* that the Congress had authorized that allowed us to do this for a short period of time. That program has now lapsed, and we would need new legislation in order to make use of it.
But that doesn’t change the fact that we do do criminal background checks on every single American host family on anybody over 18 who’s living in a household where a foreign student is going to be placed, and we obviously follow up with home visits, et cetera.
*The pilot program was under the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Okay, this clarification makes it even more confusing. If “we do do criminal background checks on every single American host family on anybody over 18 who’s living in a household where a foreign student is going to be placed, and we obviously follow up with home visits,” that obviously is good. But, but …. how did we end up with 43 sexual allegation cases in one school year?
FSI’s Transition Center and the Leadership and Management School have put together this short course intended to help U.S Government families and members of household prepare for a crisis overseas. It covers preparations to be done prior to departure for post, and upon arrival at post. It also describes the responsibilities of post personnel who have roles during crisis response and have audio clips from recent evacuees.
The online course includes five modules, a summary and review questions in each module. I find the review quiz pretty tame with softball questions but it may still be useful to take them. (Example: You’re going to Kingston, Jamaica, an island with a warm climate, should you pack sweaters and a warm coat?)
The course is not embeddable so you have to check it out here:
Planning Ahead Overview
You and the Mission
Evacuations: What They Mean for You
Planning Ahead: Your Personal Plan
At the conclusion of the brief course, there is a useful template for creating a Personal Crisis Preparedness Plan (see pdf below). There is also an option to print out the materials. Make sure you check out the “Resources” tab at the bottom of the screen.
You never know when a crisis might strike, especially overseas. Preparedness is half the battle, so check this out when you can.
I often hear executives reassure me that projects will get done because “we have an execution culture,” or that customers will be well taken care of because “we have a culture where the customer comes first.”
At the same time, culture is also one of the great rationalizations for
managerial shortcomings. Many times I’ve heard that a project was
delayed because “we don’t make quick decisions around here,” which is
the managerial equivalent of “the dog ate my homework.”
But the problem with all of these statements — both positive and
negative — is that they don’t really mean anything. Worse yet, they
can’t be translated into any kind of action. At best these declarations
are vague generalizations; and at worst they are misleading stereotypes.
Any management team can assess its culture by asking these kinds of simple questions across a range of organizational behaviors.
For example: To what extent do we reward individual vs. team results?
To what extent do we share information broadly or parcel it out
narrowly? To what extent do we encourage or discourage risk?
Asking these kinds of questions can smoke out the differences in
expectations that people have about the organization. Not everyone
experiences culture the same way, so a structured way to discuss those
differences can increase alignment and the ability to take collective
action. In practical terms, culture is not an intangible cloud that
hangs over a company, but an outcome of the way people behave on
multiple dimensions. Better understanding of these behavioral patterns —
and how each person experiences them — makes it possible to decide
whether to continue them or not.
Read in full here.
The three simple questions sound like great questions to ask if you’re inside the State Department in general, and the U.S. Foreign Service in particular. Great questions, not sure you’ll find your answers.
Via Secrecy News:
The Guide explains that when you are in the Army, your first duty is not
to the Army, but to the U.S. Constitution. “Put [your] obligations in
correct order: the Constitution, the Army, the unit, and finally,
self.” See “The Soldier’s Guide,” Field Manual, 7-21.13, February 2004, with Change 1, September 20, 2011.