Advertisements

Trump EO Also Suspends Visa Interview Waivers – Expect Long Visa Wait Times, Again

Posted: 10:28 am  PT

 

In 2012, then President Obama issued an Executive Order on Establishing Visa and Foreign Visitor Processing Goals and the Task Force on Travel and Competitiveness, which among other things, “ensure that 80 percent of nonimmigrant visa applicants are interviewed within 3 weeks of receipt of application, recognizing that resource and security considerations and the need to ensure provision of consular services to U.S. citizens may dictate specific exceptions”.  The Obama EO directed a plan that “should also identify other appropriate measures that will enhance and expedite travel to and arrival in the United States by foreign nationals, consistent with national security requirements.” In 2012, an Interview Waiver Pilot Program (IWPP) was introduced for for low-risk visa applicants. It became was made permanent in 2014, and became the Visa Interview Waiver Program (VIWP).

According to congressional testimonies, there are 222 visa-issuing embassies and consulates where “highly-trained corps of consular officers and support staff process millions of visa applications each year, facilitating legitimate travel while protecting our borders.”  In FY2015, overseas posts issued over 10.8 million nonimmigrant visas. That number is only a partial picture of the workload as it does not include visa refusals, a number that is significantly higher than visa issuances.

Section 8 of President Trump’s Executive Order: Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States refers to the immediate suspension of visa interview waivers specifically, the VIWP, and imposes a requirement that all nonimmigrant visa applicants, with exceptions, undergo in-person interviews.

Sec . 8 . Visa Interview Security

(a) The Secretary of State shall immediately suspend the Visa Interview Waiver Program and ensure compliance with section 222 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1222, which requires that all individuals seeking a nonimmigrant visa undergo an in-person interview, subject to specific statutory exceptions.

(b)  To the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations, the Secretary of State shall immediately expand the Consular Fellows Program, including by substantially increasing the number of Fellows, lengthening or making permanent the period of service, and making language training at the Foreign Service Institute available to Fellows for assignment to posts outside of their area of core linguistic ability, to ensure that non-immigrant visa-interview wait times are not unduly affected.

We understand that the current Visa Interview Waiver Program (VIWP) was “carefully crafted”, and rolled out in consultation with the Congress. It was designed not/not to go back to pre-911 situation but to facilitate travel in cases of no discernable risk.

Here is what the Consular Affairs bureau told Congress:

Since 9/11, a risk-based approach grounded on greater and more effective domestic and international information sharing has become a key principle of visa processing policy.  This approach enables the United States to channel more resources toward the prevention of high-risk travel while simultaneously increasing the number of legitimate visitors arriving by land, air, and sea.  The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prescreening process for Visa Waiver Program (VWP) travelers, international information sharing arrangements, Global Entry, which expedites the movement of low-risk, frequent travelers who proceed directly to automated kiosks upon arrival in the United States, and interagency counterterrorism and eligibility checks are examples of how U.S. agencies can use information collected from visitors and/or governments in advance of travel to accomplish complimentary and mutually re-enforcing goals of preventing terrorists and serious criminals from traveling to the United States while facilitating the entry of legitimate visitors.

We asked the State Department about the suspension of the VIWP and its impact on visa operations. We were interested in the number of applicants who used the Visa Interview Visa Program for the last fiscal year.  In trying to get a sense of the impact of the new EO on visa operations, we also were interested on number of consular officers in visa sections worldwide.

Our question is in general staffing terms not specific to any posts, nonetheless, a State Department official on background declined to discuss staffing levels or the number of officers working at any embassy or consulate.  However, the SDO  did provided the following information:

The Executive Order suspends previously authorized portions of the Interview Waiver Program. The Interview Waiver Program will continue for certain diplomatic and official visa applicants from foreign governments and international organizations (categories: A-1, A-2, G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1 through -6, C-2 and C-3) applicants under the age of 14, or over the age of 79; and applicants who previously held a visa in the same category that expired less than 12 months prior to the new application. As always, a consular officer must require that any applicant appear for an in-person interview in any situation where information provided on the application or during the screening process indicates any reason for further questioning. All visa applications, including those cases above, for which the visa interview is waived, are subject to the same rigorous security screening.

Previously, applicants renewing their visas in the same category within 48 months of expiration were eligible for their interview to be waived, as were first-time Brazilian and Argentine applicants ages 14-15 and 66-79.

We don’t know what is the current number but in 2013, Brazilian visitors contributed $10.5 billion to the U.S. economy, a 13 percent increase from the prior year.

Background of the Visa Interview Waiver Program (VIWP)

In January 2012, the Department and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiated the two-year Interview Waiver Pilot Program (IWPP) to streamline processing for low-risk visa applicants.  The worldwide pilot program allows consular officers to waive in-person interviews for certain nonimmigrant visa applicants who were previously interviewed and thoroughly screened in conjunction with a prior visa application, and who are renewing a previous visa within four years of its expiration.  The pilot program also allows consular officers to waive interviews for qualified Brazilian applicants falling into specific age ranges, even when applying for visas for the first time.

All IWPP applications are thoroughly reviewed by a commissioned consular officer, with the applicant’s fingerprints, photograph, and biodata undergoing extensive database checks.  Consular officers have been directed to require an interview for any applicant who might otherwise qualify for the IWPP, if the application is not immediately approvable upon paper review, including if database checks reveal potential grounds of inadmissibility or other possible concerns.  State concluded an August 2013 validation study of the IWPP, which showed that B1/B2 visa issuances under the IWPP present no greater risk of overstay than interview-based B1/B2 visa issuances.

In 2013, State/CA’s congressional testimony indicates that “more than 90 percent of applicants worldwide were interviewed within three weeks of submitting their applications.”  This includes key markets such as China where consular officers were able to keep interview wait times to an average of five days while managing an average annual workload increase of 23 percent over the past three years.  In Brazil, consular officers were able to bring down wait times by 98 percent, from a high of 140 days in São Paulo, to just two days in September 2013, while also managing an eleven percent jump in annual workload between 2011 and 2013. These results were partially attributed to the VIWP:

The Department’s success is partially attributable to the introduction of secure, streamlined processes such as the Interview Waiver Pilot Program (IWPP), which allows consular officers to waive in-person interviews for certain nonimmigrant visa applicants who are renewing their visas, and whose biometric data we have on file.  IWPP is operational at more than 90 visa processing posts in more than 50 countries, and consular officers have already waived interviews for more than 500,000 of these low-risk visa applicants.  The pilot has been particularly successful in China, where it constitutes 30 percent of Mission China’s visa renewal workload.  Of course, these applicants are subject to all of the security checks conducted for any interviewed applicant.  State also concluded an August 2013 validation study of the IWPP, which showed that B1/B2 visa issuances under the IWPP present no greater risk of overstay than interview-based B1/B2 visa issuances.

One of the most effective ways we have to improve the efficiency of visa operations is to eliminate in-person interviews for low-risk travelers, while retaining all of the security checks that apply to every visa applicant.  Although the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires our consular officers to interview in-person all visa applicants aged 14 through 79, it also provides limited authority to waive interviews, including authority to waive for diplomatic and official applicants from foreign governments and for some repeat applicants.  We are utilizing technology and advanced fraud detection techniques to help us expand the pool of applicants for whom interviews can be waived under the Interview Waiver Program.  This allows us to focus resources on higher-risk visa applicants while facilitating travel for low-risk applicants.

We are working with our colleagues across the government to expand this successful program, which became permanent in January 2014.  In fiscal year 2013, we waived over 380,000 interviews, and a recent study showed that tourist and business visitor visa holders whose interviews were waived, all of whom were subject to the full scope of security checks, posed no greater risk for an overstay than those who were interviewed.  We are interested in explicit legislative authority to supplement the existing Interview Waiver Program by adding additional low-risk applicant groups such as citizens of Visa Waiver Program members applying for other types of visas such as student or work visas; continuing students moving to a higher level of education; non-U.S. citizen Global Entry and NEXUS trusted traveler program members; and holders of visas in other categories, such as students and workers, who wish to travel for tourism or business.  The Department is interested in working with Congress on legislation specifically authorizing the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security to enhance our interview waiver programs.

Since the VIWP is available in China and India, and many other countries with high visa demand, and includes visitor/business (B1-B2) visas, student (F) visas, and temporary worker’s (H1-B) visas, the workload impact on consular sections will be significant.  As more applicants require interviews, more interview windows will be needed, more consular officers will be needed, and larger facilities would become necessary.

By shutting down the IVWP, the Trump EO immediately expands the number of applicants that require in-person interviews. Section 8 (b) of the Trump EO also “immediately expand” the Consular Fellows Program, while a separate EO imposed a federal hiring freeze. Even if hiring is allowed under the Consular Fellows program, training new limited noncareer employees cannot occur overnight.

According to CA official’s congressional testimony, in 2014, 75 million international visitors traveled to the United States, a seven percent increase over 2013; they spent over $220 billion.  “Tourism is America’s largest services export and one that can’t be outsourced.” See current key numbers on US tourism in infographic below.

In FY 2014, Consular Affairs also generated $3.6 billion in revenue, which supports all consular operations in the Department and provides border security-related funding to some interagency partners. The CA bureau is probably the only fully fee-funded operation in the State Department.  It collects and retains fees for certain visa and passport services pursuant to specific statutory authority.  According to congressional testimony, the current fee statutes allow the bureau to retain approximately 80 percent of the fees it collects, with the balance going to the Treasury, which then help fund 12 other arms of the USG supporting border protection/national security.

 

#

The Voice of America Deals With White House’s False Claim of ‘Largest Audience to Ever Witness an Inauguration’

Posted: 1:26 am ET

 

The VOA Charter signed into law by President Gerald Ford in 1976 provides that VOA serves “as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news.” The Charter says that VOA news “will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.”  VOA broadcasts about 1,800 hours of radio and television programming each week to an estimated global audience of 236.6 million people. It is broadcasts in 47 languages.

On the White House Press Secretary’s first briefing of January 21, The Voice of America initially repeated Mr. Spicer’s false claim about the inauguration crowd but took down the tweet after being called out in public for it. A couple of hours later, The Voice of America posted and tweeted its AP-written Factcheck: Trump and Spicer’s Statements on Inaugural Crowd Size.

Screen Shot

#

Trump’s Twittersation: Will FSI Soon Teach The Art of the Walk Back?

Posted: 1:10 am ET
Updated: Jan 15, 11:27 am PT

 

If the President-elect continues to tweet after January 20, and every indication says that he will, how does that affect the work of diplomats? How does that impact bilateral and multilateral relationships? This is a whole new different ball game.  Will foreign governments and foreign publics learn to take Trump’s tweets “seriously, but not literally?” And how is the Foreign Service Institute now preparing public affairs officials for overseas assignments? Our officials will soon be tasked with explaining the Trump policies and pronouncements at over 275 missions abroad. Is the school now or will soon be teaching the Art of the Walk Back?  What does the Magic 8 ball look like from your desktop?  We are entertaining predictions in our comment section or contact us here.

Here’s inspiration all the way from Asia —

 

 

#

Activists Missing in #Zimbabwe, Also the U.S. Ambassador Tweets About Mickey Mouse

Posted: 4:01 pm ET

 

In case deleted, the tweet is here: https://cloudup.com/cVV4BmxzhOj

#

Burn Bag: Consular Locally Employed Staff on LinkedIn? #VisaTroubles

Via Burn Bag:

“So, the Consular Section’s locally engaged employees are publicly identifying themselves as such on LinkedIn? Not a good idea.”

via imoviequotes.com

via imoviequotes.com

LES – Locally Employed Staff

FSNs – Foreign Service National employees

#

OPM Hack Victims Must Re-Enroll Starting December 1 to Keep Monitoring Services

Posted: 12:37 am ET

 

Some former and current federal employees whose personal data was compromised in the OPM data breach will have to re-enroll starting December 1 to continue receiving monitoring protection from a USG contractor. OPM doesn’t say what will happen to the data, feds and former feds have already submitted to CSID, but folks who have enrolled in that service will no longer have access to their CSID account when that contract expires on December 1. The Government Executive is reporting that as many as 600,000 individuals impacted by the initial hack will need to re-enroll to continue monitoring services through ID Experts. How is it that CSID is not able to port data over to ID Experts? Below from OPM:

OPM is announcing a change to the credit monitoring and identity protection service provider that will affect a subset of individuals impacted by the personnel records cyber incident announced in the summer of 2015. Most impacted individuals will not experience any change to their current coverage, and do not need to take any action, but a subset of individuals will need to re-enroll to continue coverage.

OPM currently uses two different companies to provide credit monitoring and identity protection services free of charge to impacted individuals. Winvale/CSID covers the 4.2 million individuals impacted by the personnel records cyber incident and ID Experts (MyIDCare) covers the 21.5 million individuals impacted by the background investigations cyber incident. As of December 1, coverage under Winvale/CSID will expire.

Credit monitoring and identity protection services from Winvale/CSID expire on December 1, 2016. Once services with Winvale/CSID expire, you will no longer have access to information in your Winvale/CSID account. If you wish to review or print your credit reports or other monitoring information from your Winvale/CSID account, please log in to your account prior to December 1.

As of December 2, 2016 all individuals impacted by either incident will be eligible for coverage through ID Experts (MyIDCare).

According to OPM, individuals currently covered by ID Experts (MyIDCare) will not experience a change in their coverage or service at this time and do not need to take any action. More:

Starting December 1, individuals previously covered by Winvale/CSID will be offered services through IDExperts (MyIDCare). Impacted individuals will also still be automatically covered by identity restoration and identity theft insurance, but you will need to re-enroll with ID Experts (MyIDCare) if you would like to continue to receive monitoring services.

Most of the individuals covered by Winvale/CSID were also impacted by the background investigation records cyber incident. These individuals should already have received a letter from OPM inviting them to enroll in services with ID Experts (MyIDCare) and providing them with a 25-digit PIN code.

If you previously received a notification letter in connection with the background investigation records incident and wish to enroll with ID Experts (MyIDCare) now, you will need to use the 25-digit PIN code provided in this letter. Click here if you have your 25-digit PIN code and wish to enroll now.

If you believe you previously received a notification letter in connection with the background investigation records incident, but no longer have your original notice, you can visit the Verification Center to obtain a duplicate copy by U.S. Postal Service.

If you are in the subset of individuals who were not impacted by the background investigations incident, you will be receiving a new notification letter from OPM via the U.S. Postal service with a 25-digit PIN that you can use to enroll with ID Experts (MyIDCare). We expect to mail the majority of these notifications in November 2016.

Note that OPM makes clear that ID Experts cannot enroll victims without the 25-digit PIN code and cannot provide former/current employees with a PIN code over the phone.

Read more here: https://www.opm.gov/cybersecurity/ and https://www.opm.gov/cybersecurity/personnel-records/.

And while you’re reading how to re-enroll, you might want to read about grafted fingerprints and hackers’ long term intention, because why not?  If the data has not surfaced for sale, we have to wonder what was that hack about?

 

#

 

 

Burn Bag: Worst bidding season EVER — time to scratch the whole system and start over?

Via Burn Bag:

“Bidding never made much sense but this year seems so much worse it really seems time to scratch the whole system and start over.  After a training cycle, PSP cycle, DCM cycle, and all the back room deals, plus three different websites including FSBid and the SharePoint sites for EUR and everyone else ( what’s up with that?), it’s a wonder anyone who makes it to any assignment is actually qualified for it.  Has there ever been an OIG inspection on bidding?”

computerslam

#

FSO Morgan O’Brien Launches DiploSport Podcast on Sports Diplomacy

Posted: 1:03 am ET

 

If you’re taking a road trip, and are looking for something to listen to in the car, check out the DiploSport Podcast. FSO Morgan O’Brien spent the past year studying sports diplomacy as part of a fellowship sponsored by the Council of Foreign Relations and the NBA. For his research, he interviewed journalists, policy makers and athletes to discuss the interplay of sports and government.

The first episode features former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as his inaugural guest (full transcript here). Others featured in the podcast include Norwegian speedskating legend and Olympic champion, Dr. Johann Olav Koss, founder of Right to Play (bit.ly/JOKossRtP) an organization which uses sport to connect with youth around the globe who face some of the most challenging circumstances imaginable; 3x American skeleton Olympian Katie Uhlaender who is preparing for the next Winter Games in Pyeongchang 2018; Ruth Riley who served as a State Department Sports Envoy, and an NBA Cares Ambassador; and two-time Olympic medalist Michelle Kwan who also did a stint as a State Department Sports Envoy. He told us that he started interviewing earlier this year and have about 20 podcasts in the can.

The podcast host is a Public Diplomacy officer who joined the Foreign Service in 2009 (146th A-100). He was  Ambassador Holbrooke’s assistant for his first tour, and he did a consular tour in Brazzaville.  When he came back to the State Department, he worked at the Sports Diplomacy Division of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). For the past 12 months, he was attached to the National Basketball Association’s International Operations team and had the opportunity to study sports diplomacy.  He is currently in language training in preparation for his next assignment to an East Asia post. We asked him a few questions about this project:

Q: How were you able to get a fun fellowship like this?

MO: This past year, I was on the International Affairs Fellowship through the Council on Foreign Relations, so this wasn’t a formalized “sports diplomacy/NBA Fellowship,” per se. I first pitched the idea to the NBA, with whom I had worked the previous two years when I was in ECA. When they agreed to the concept, I put together a written proposal for the CFR, which was then followed by a panel interview before ultimately being accepted. Since I applied, two things I think have changed: one of the stipulations was that applicants needed to be under 35, I think that’s no longer the case; and I think there is an extra level of State vetting now. Whereas I sent my proposal directly to the CFR, I think this year’s applicants need to be approved by HR before submitting to the CFR.

If one gets creative in canvassing the bid list, they’ll find that the Department can be fantastic about enabling/empowering officers to pursue opportunities outside State, including awesome fellowships (the Una Chapman Cox Fellowship is another incredible, self-paced opportunity). And while I don’t know how it was done, there are officers actually working on international affairs for a few mayor’s offices in a handful of major cities in the US.

Q: What was it like working with the NBA team?

MO: I was a fully-integrated member of the NBA team for the year, fulfilling a childhood dream of working in pro sports. I supported the All Star Game (held in Toronto) and the “Basketball Without Borders” elite youth camps held around the world this past summer. I learned a ton about the decision-making process of a multi-billion dollar organization, and was pretty blown away by their sincere commitment to social responsibility programming. At State, we should also be proud to know that the NBA really relies on us around the world as subject matter experts and partners. There are dozens of Posts with whom we worked throughout the year—whether it be for women/girls-centered programming in Latvia and Ethiopia or to help demystify the visa process for the families of our players in Serbia or Congo.

Q: What did you learn from this private sector experience?

MO: The private sector exposure was fantastic. I’m bringing back to State a wealth of knowledge in monitoring and evaluation and emphasizing efficiency. I do have to admit that the time away also reinforced my love for the Foreign Service, our mission and our wonderful colleagues. My private sector teammates always found it fascinating that we get to travel the world on behalf of the country, and were every bit as interested in what we do day-to-day as I was of their work.

Morgan O’Brien’s views/opinions expressed on the blog/podcasts are not necessarily those of the State Department.

Check out the diplosport links below and while you’re at it, you might also check @SportsDiplomacy, the official Twitter account of exchanges.state.gov/sports

Sound Cloud: https://soundcloud.com/diplosport

iTunes: http://bit.ly/DiploSport

Google Play: http://bit.ly/2bUgvdI

Blog: http://www.diplosport.com/blog/

#

 

 

Congress “Examines” @StateDept FOIA Compliance, Talks Hillary, Hillarrry, Hillarrrrry

Posted: 4:20 pm ET

 

On September 8, the House Oversight and Reform Committee (HOGR) held a hearing Examining FOIA Compliance at the State Department. The hearing has four State Department officials as witnesses starting with Patrick Kennedy, the Under Secretary for Management and Janice Jacobs, the agency’s Transparency Coordinator. It also includes two staffers from the Executive Secretariat. Some members expressed appreciation for the work these officials have done, one referring to them as “clean-up” people at State.

For the most part, it’s the kind of theater that we’ve come to expect from the Congress. One member asked about the Yemen War and the arm sales to Saudi Arabia. In an FOIA hearing.  More than a couple members used the hearing to throw darts at the absent Hillary Clinton. No, no response required from any of the witnesses in those segments. Another member wants the State Department to go get Colin Powell’s emails from his tenure at the State Department. A member brought up Colin Powell’s role in the lead up to the Iraq War. There was a bit of discussion on retroactive classification and Foreign Government Information (FGI). Another member wanted to know the names of the people who are processing and redacting FOIA requests. We stopped watching when Chaffetz did a quiz show on what Congress should not be able to see.  We include the links below to the prepared statements of the State Department officials as well as the hearing page here, if you want to watch the video.

Oh, get ready, apparently over the next few days, the Committee will hold a couple more hearings like this. On September 12, it will hold a hearing on classification and redactions in FBI’s investigative file. On September 13, it will hold a hearing on the preservation of records at the State Department. This last one is also called an “examination.” By October, we might see hearings focusing on an Examination of the State Department’s Cafeteria Selection.  It remains to be seen if the next hearings will result in any findings at all, or if perhaps this is nothing but a roundabout way of getting folks an audition for spoken entertainment with Audible.

 

The Honorable Patrick F. Kennedy Under Secretary for Management U.S. Department of State Document
The Honorable Janice Jacobs Transparency Coordinator U.S. Department of State Document
Ms. Karin Lang Director, Executive Secretariat U.S. Department of State Document
Mr. Clarence N. Finney, Jr. Deputy Director for Correspondence, Records, and Staffing Division, Executive Secretariat U.S. Department of State Document

Here’s the GOP side talking about putting the “e” at the end of potato and Hilary Clinton.

Here’s the Dems talking about the GOP and Hillary Clinton.

Welcome to the next 60 days of depressing nightmare on the Hill, in addition to the other one unfolding on teeve. Excuse us now, we’ll just go find us some cats for therapy.

 

#