Ex-FSO Who Once Advocated Moving Visas to DHS May be the Next Asst Secretary For Consular Affairs

Posted: 10:08 am PT
Updated: 1:14 pm ET
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On June 21, President Trump announced his intent to nominate Carl C. Risch to be the next Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs. The WH released the following brief bio:

Carl C. Risch of Pennsylvania, to be an Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs. Carl C. Risch is the Acting Chief of Staff in the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services. He was previously the Field Office Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, at the American Embassy in Seoul, South Korea. He is a highly regarded Pennsylvania attorney. A senior immigration official abroad and in Washington, D.C. for over a decade, and a former Foreign Service Officer (Consular) with the Department of State, Mr. Risch is expert in the responsibilities and challenges of managing Consular Affairs worldwide. He earned a BA from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and a JD from Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

A quick background: The Consular Affairs (CA) Bureau has over 12,000 employees at 28 domestic passport facilities, 2 domestic visa centers, 8 headquarters offices, and more than 240 consular sections at embassies and consulates around the world.  In FY 2015, it adjudicated 13.2 million visa applications. A 2014 OIG report notes that “international tourism supports more than $180 billion of economic activity and more than 8 million U.S. jobs. A total of 819,644 international students in the United States contribute as much as $24 billion to the U.S. economy.”  We don’t have updated numbers but in FY2012, the Bureau also generated approximately $3.14 billion in consular fee revenue, of which 78% ($2.45 billion) was retained by the Department of State and shared among its regional and functional bureaus.

The State Department’s staffing models include potential developments such as an expected Consular workload increase of approximately 50 percent from FY 2013 to FY2021; and a projected deficit of more than 900 Entry Level Generalists for EL Consular positions by the end of FY 2020 under current Consular workload forecasts. That’s just for starters.  A 2014 report notes that the U.S. mission in China processed more than 1 million visa applications in 2011; the mission also believed that within 10 years, annual demand for visas in China alone could jump to 10 million.

U.S. Consular Flag: For use of consular officers in charge of consular posts

So, folks might recall that in the aftermath of 9/11, there was a big fight to move the visa function from the State Department to the newly proposed agency department, the Department of Homeland Security.  Congress eventually established the Department of Homeland Security in November 2002 and tasked the new agency entity with setting visa policy, leaving responsibility for adjudicating visa applications with the State Department. In July 15, 2002, about four months prior to the creation of DHS, the Sub-Committee on the Civil Service, Census and Agency Organization of the Committee on Government Reform held a hearing called “Strengthening America: Should the Issuing of Visas be Viewed as a Diplomatic Tool or Security Measure?”

Among the many witnesses in that hearing was Carl C. Risch who was introduced as an attorney who practiced law in Pennsylvania and a former Foreign Service officer in the State Department who also “has some firsthand experience of Consular Affairs.”

The official WH announcement did not mention this, but Mr. Risch who served one tour as a junior officer in Europe in 1999, once advocated before Congress that the visa function be moved from the State Department to Homeland Security. Perry-Pruitt familiar? That was 15 years ago, and we don’t know what is his thoughts on this issue from his current cubicle at DHS/CIS, but this is part of the nominee’s history with the bureau that he is now nominated to lead. We expect that there would be questions related to this during his confirmation hearing.

The GPO record of the 2002 hearing includes a biographic data for Mr. Risch as follows:

Carl C. Risch is an attorney and former foreign service officer now living in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Bom March 10, 1970, in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, he was graduated from Bloomsburg University  summa cum laude in 1992 and the Dickinson School of Law magna cum laude in 1995. He worked as a litigation associate at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart LLP from 1995 until 1997. In 1997, Mr. Risch joined his  present law firm, Martson Deardorff Williams & Otto in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, as an associate  specializing in corporate law, business transactions, and land use and development. From 1998 until 1999, he served as an assistant adjunct professor of business law at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he taught contracts and business organizations.

In 1999, Mr. Risch took a leave of absence from his law practice to accept an appointment to the United States Foreign Service. Following a year of training in Washington, D.C., Mr. Risch and his wife, Wendy, were assigned to the U.S. Consulate General in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. While in Holland, Mr. Risch managed the Nonimmigrant Visa Unit for 15 months, worked for 3 months at the U.S. Embassy in The Hague, and managed the American Citizen Services Unit in Amsterdam for 7 months.  In May 2002, Mr. Risch resigned from federal service and rejoined his law firm in Carlisle.

The GPO record also includes Mr. Risch statement to the Sub-Committee.


Mr. Risch. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for allowing me to come
and testify on such an important issue. My name is Carl Risch and
I’m a former Foreign Service officer of the U.S. Department of
State having served from 1999 until 2002. From 2000 until 2002,
I served as Vice Consul at the Consulate General in Amsterdam,
the Netherlands, where I managed the Nonimmigrant Visa Unit
for 15 months, including on September 11, 2001.

During my tenure as Unit Chief, I adjudicated approximately
25,000 visa applications. I resigned in May 2002 even though I re-
ceived top evaluations and a challenging onward assignment. While
I longed to return to my private law practice, I was also discour-
aged by the State Department’s lack of dedication to the effective
enforcement of the immigration laws of the United States. I took
my job very seriously. The State Department did not.

Unlike other witnesses you’ve seen, I never served in a so-called
visa mill. In fact, I experienced the best the State Department has
to offer; a tour in a first class, Western European city and at a post
with no staffing problems and a high visa issuance rate.

The fact that even I was terrified by State’s incompetence and
apathy toward law enforcement proves just how far this problem
has progressed. I urge the Congress to support the transfer of the
visa issuing function from State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs to the
new Department of Homeland Security, a department that will be
committed to the rule of law and the national security of the
United States.

During my tour in Amsterdam, I observed two primary institu-
tional problems with the way the State administers visas. First,
State routinely sacrifices the rule of law in order to further its dip-
lomatic goals and ignores the impact this may have on national se-
curity. Second, State considers visa adjudication to be a right of
passage of all Foreign Service officers, even the vast majority who
are disinterested in consular service.

The State Department is by definition a diplomatic institution.
Our officers at posts abroad work hard to improve America’s image
overseas. Adjudicating visa applications, however, has nothing to
do with diplomacy. Immigration law like environmental regulations
and the tax code is a complex, specialized set of rules which allows
foreign nationals to apply for permission to travel to the United
States. The proper administration of these laws requires strict ad-
herence to the rule of law even when decisions are unpopular.

State’s diplomatic function has proven too inconsistent with this
law enforcement function for it to be trusted with this responsibil-
ity. The result has been a visa policy whereby the rule of law is
repeatedly sacrificed to please host country officials and important
contacts in reckless disregard of the impact on national security.

Just one example: While serving in Amsterdam, I interviewed a
Tanzanian who wanted to visit the United States. He had only
been in Holland for a few days as a visitor. He could not articulate
a single reason for wanting to visit the United States or even give
a specific geographic destination for his trip. He had no evidence
of employment or other ties to Tanzania or any other country.

I refused his application for failure to prove his qualifications for
a visit to visit the United States. Less than an hour later, a high-
ranking official called me into his office. Apparently, a local VIP
had called to report that he was disappointed to hear that his
neighbor’s safari jeep driver from Tanzania had been denied a visa.

After the State official apologized to the neighbor for any incon-
venience this man caused, I was then directed to issue the visa.
The fact that the applicant did not qualify for a visa under any rea-
sonable interpretation of the Immigration and Nationality Act did
not seem to bother the official. The only thing that mattered was
the diplomatic mission. Only an agency committed to law enforce-
ment and not diplomacy should be trusted with enforcing the laws
as intended by Congress.

State’s record on visa worsens when one views its staffing policy.
Simply put, State views visa adjudication as garbage work to be
delegated to the lowest ranking, least experienced officers. Poorly
trained, unenthusiastic officers are sent by the hundreds every
year to be our first line of defense at visa issuing posts abroad.

Although virtually all FSOs must spend some time adjudicating
visas, only a minority are actually interested in the work. The rest
suffer through it with the knowledge that the rest of their careers
will be spent elsewhere. It is no wonder that State cannot com-
petently administer the visa function when it intentionally staffs
its Consular sections with people who desperately do not want to
be there.

Visa work should be done by people who are interested in a law
enforcement career, although State behaves as if no one ever wants
to spend their careers adjudicating visas abroad. This is simply not
true. I found visa work to be an exciting and important job where
I could use all my skills as an attorney to implement and enforce
the laws of the United States. I know I’m not alone.

I urge the Congress to support the transfer of the visa issuing
function to the new Department of Homeland Security where visa
sections will likely be staffed with dedicated and enthusiastic law
enforcement officers committed to the national security of the
United States. Thank you.



Related notes:

The Homeland Security Act of 2002 (HSA) contained language stating that DHS is responsible for formulating regulations on visa issuances. In §428, the Secretary of DHS is expressly tasked as follows:

…shall be vested exclusively with all authorities to issue regulations with respect to, administer, and enforce the provisions of such Act, and of all other immigration and nationality laws, relating to the functions of consular officers of the United States in connection with the granting or refusal of visas, and shall have the authority to refuse visas in accordance with law and to develop programs of homeland security training for consular officers (in addition to consular training provided by the Secretary of State), which authorities shall be exercised through the Secretary of State, except that the Secretary shall not have authority to alter or reverse the decision of a consular officer to refuse a visa to an alien … 17

The HSA also enabled DHS to assign staff to consular posts abroad to advise, review, and conduct investigations, which is discussed more fully below. It further stated that DOS’s Consular Affairs continued to be responsible for issuing visas. The HSA required DHS and DOS to reach an understanding on how the details of this division of responsibilities would be implemented.

Some critics of transferring the visa function to DHS warned that visa issuance “adjudication” might become subject to judicial appeals or other due process considerations if a stateside agency, such as DHS, assumed responsibility. As a result, §428(f) of the HSA stated: “Nothing in this section shall be construed to create or authorize a private right of action to challenge a decision of a consular officer or other United States official or employee to grant or deny a visa.” (via CRS)

Memorandum of Understanding Between the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security Concerning Implementation of  Section 428 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (via state.gov)


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2 responses

  1. I once advocated moving the visa function to USINS. Fact is, there’s been legitimate debate for decades about this, and some governments keep the visa function separate from the foreign relations function.