Snapshot: Top 10 Posts For Immigrant Visas, FY2015

Posted: 2:31 am ET
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Immigrant visas  are used for travel to live permanently in the United States. Click here for immigrant visa categories. Below via travel.state.gov:

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Snapshot: Top 10 Posts For Nonimmigrant Visa Issuances, FY2015

Posted: 2:21 am ET
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Nonimmigrant visas are used for travel to the United States on a temporary basis. Click here for the categories of nonimmigrant visas. Note that visas are used to make application to enter the United States. The validity of the visa is not a permit to stay.  Having a visa does not guarantee entry to the United States, it does indicate a consular officer at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad has determined you are eligible to seek entry for that specific purpose. DHS/CBP inspectors are responsible for admission of travelers to the United States, for a specified status and period of time.

Via state.gov:

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USCG Erehwon’s New Year’s Resolutions For Disaster Preparedness

Posted:2:05 am EDT
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The elves working at the FAM factory worked long and hard to get their directives out.  The elves know very well that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Nonetheless, they sent an ALDAC to all missions with a reminder to remember disaster preparedness as they start 2016.  There are, afterall, 10 Major Natural Disasters Predicted In The Near Future. If that’s not scary enough, here are the 5 Cities That Will Be Wiped Off the Map by Natural Disasters according to cracked.com.  And just because the world did not end in December 2012 despite the Mayan prediction and the Roland Emmerich movie, doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen, right?

The elves point out in the ALDAC that per FAM 1812, a crisis unready organization is one that:

  • Does not know where it is at risk
  • Does not routinely communicate internally or externally
  • Has not considered how to respond
  • Has not identified key managers
  • Has unclear policy guidance
  • Has no emergency procedures checklists
  • Has an uncertain/unclear media policy and strategy
  • Cannot anticipate
  • Is concerned more with liability than results

The American Consulate General Erehwon is vulnerable to natural disasters like flood, cyclones, heat waves, even droughts.  One year it almost drowned in flood, and was almost washed away another year by a super cyclone. The principal officer was wondering if the elves were talking specifically about his post when he saw the ALDAC.  He had nightmares that employees under his command were swept away by flash floods and he was eaten then spit out by an giant snake like Jon Voight in Anaconda.  Nightmares. And that my friends, is how USCG Erehwon ended up with the following New Year’s Resolutions For Disaster Preparedness this year.

#1.  The EAP is boring but a must-read.  I need to get familiar with post’s Emergency Action Plan (EAP). This year, no kidding. I now recognize that a plan is just an illusion of preparedness in a binder unless accompanied by training and constant practice.  We all need to know the plan and know the drill. As one ambassador once said, “we drilled for asylum seekers, for bomb threats, for anything we could think of.” I guess, we’ve got to do it.  Per 7 FAM 1812.1, my broadest and deepest responsibility is to ensure the safety of U.S. citizens in the event of a crisis. I will make sure that the plan is tested, that regular radio tests are done, and we go through the mission’s telephone tree, even if I have to run the tests myself.

#2. I will no longer skip the Crisis Management Exercise (CME).  Yes, the CME scenarios are occasionally fantastic but an earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear meltdown did happen all at the same time at one post. It could happen again elsewhere. Per 7 FAM 1812.1-9, a crisis management exercise at post is an excellent way to test planning and identify problems to address before a crisis hits.  I get that. Really. No, I would not want a Congressional committee asking me on C-SPAN why I missed the crisis management exercise at post.

Debris fills the land in Ofunato, Japan after a tsunami during a search and recovery mission on March 15, 2011. Members of the Los Angeles Search and Rescue Team, Task Force 2 are responding to the recent national emergency in Japan due to the earthquake while providing needed care, rescue techniques and tools.

Debris fills the land in Ofunato, Japan after a tsunami during a search and recovery mission on March 15, 2011. Members of the Los Angeles Search and Rescue Team, Task Force 2 are responding to the recent national emergency in Japan due to the earthquake while providing needed care, rescue techniques and tools. 4th Combat Camera Squadron Photo by Tech. Sgt. Daniel St. Pierre Date Taken:03.15.2011 Location:OFUNATO, IWATE, JP

#3. Remember the humans, yes I will. People applying for visas show up whether there’s a flood or a cyclone as long as the consular section is open. Local employees show up as long as the office is open. Per 7 FAM 1812.4-1, while the host government and even other embassy sections may exert pressure to keep visa services open, the protection and welfare of U.S. citizens must always take priority over visa services.  Also postponement of a conference or a dinner party is not/not the end of the world. I will be mindful that local staff supporting a conference or a dinner party have family members to take case of in the event of a crisis or a natural disaster.  When flood water is rising or when the cyclone is roaring, post closure “out of an abundance of caution” actually makes sense.

#4. I will be visible, present and attentive. I will show up for my colleagues, post clients and the community before, during, and after a crisis. I heard that leaders who hide or appear removed from the crisis negate their perceived and expected leadership actions.  I will be there for you next time, and every time after that. I know now that I cannot just show up for a photo-op after a crisis, even if the photo is for DipNote. My colleagues rolled their eyes the last time I did that, and there’s apparently a video of that! So never again!

#5. I will work to improve communication. I was personally distressed at the unfolding calamity. I did not do any town halls though I heard that the RSO did one brief radio announcement.  I know now that my staff needed to hear from me before, during and after the incident. I will endeavor to improve my communication skills to avoid misunderstandings, inaccurate information, and misinterpretations.  One ambassador once used the embassy radio network to brief the staff twice a day during a coup d’état.  After things settled down, staff members expressed their appreciation for these briefings, noting how reassuring it was to know what was going on and, moreover, that someone was at the helm. I will try my best to emulate that.

#6. I will learn to prioritize. I am learning that people are more important than events or things. More important than the blasted dinner reception for the principal officer’s conference. Or that antique china cabinet that needs rescuing from rising flood water. Per 7 FAM 1814.2, a disaster checklist would be helpful to capsulate the plan into a streamlined format that outlines what needs to be done, and in what order.  If there are sacrifices to be made – and there will be – I will step up to the plate first. Yes, everyone will get fuel for their home generators before mine. I promised I will be the last one the support staff will need to worry about in a crisis.

#7 . I will attempt to understand the likely response of the host government. What options are available when ports are closed or when roads are dangerous? What happens if shelter in place is no longer the best scenario? Per 7 FAM 1813.3-1, I will make every effort to learn and understand the response infrastructure the government has in place, get to know the officials who would have primary responsibility for crisis management and identify any predetermined sites the host government plans to use, such as communications centers, emergency shelters, mass feeding areas, etc.  I need to know who can assist post if the unthinkable happens and there are no USG assets to rely on.

#8: I will request mental health services for my staff.  I will make it clear that getting treated for a mental health issue is a sign of strength and responsibility, not weakness, and that my request for a visit from RMO/P is not a “check the box” exercise nor to shield myself from criticisms but in recognition that people handle traumas and crises differently.

9. I will do a debrief. From now on, post will do a lessons learned debriefing exercise and endeavor to share it with others. The exercise will include a collective self-analysis of actions taken and leadership decisions, successes and failures, and perhaps most importantly, what can be made better if the same thing happen again in the future.

#10. I will thank people and show appreciation.  I will learn to show appreciation to everyone who made it possible for post to survive the crisis. I will remember to prepare appropriate awards for staff members, and formal commendations appropriate to persons outside of the mission who provided assistance. I will pat myself on the back but only in private and will not self-nominate myself for any award even if I think I did a most excellent job.

Happy First Week of 2016! If I’m not faithful to these new year’s resolutions, you know what to do!

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Top Blog Attractions in 2015

Posted: 11:11 pm EDT
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These are the blog posts that got the most views in 2015. Thank you for making us part of your day especially this past year! –D

#1. “Corridor Reputation” Gets a Makeover, And OMG …. It’s Now Online! (July 7, 2015)

#2. Next Generation U.S. Passport To Roll Out in 2016, No More Additional Page Insert Starting Jan 1, 2016 (April 28, 2015)

#3. The State Dept’s Most Expensive Assignments in the World (February 2015) (February 13, 2015)

#4. Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay (February 18, 2015)

#5. NewsFlash: “The FAM is not a regulation; it’s recommendations.” Hurry, DECLINE button over there! (March 11, 2015)

#6. New #Burundi Travel Warning, Non-Emergency US Embassy Staff & Family Members Now on Ordered Departure (May 15, 2015)

#7. Purported ISIS ‘Hit List’ With 1,482 Targets Includes State Department Names (August 16, 2015)

#8. State Dept Releases New 3 FAM 4170 aka: The “Stop The Next Peter Van Buren” Regulation (August 17, 2015)

#9. Move Over Jason Bourne! Meet Diplomat Alex Baines, Our New Favorite Fictional Hero (February 20, 2015)

#10. New Danger Pay Differential Posts: See Gainers, Plus Losers Include One Post on Evacuation Status (September 14, 2015)

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#11. The Purposeful and Targeted Cultivation of a Relationship with a Consular Officer (August 13, 2015)

#12. Senator Grassley Places Hold on 20 FSO Nominations Over Clinton Inquiry (August 10, 2015)

#13. Asking about the security clearance logjam: “Seriously? I suggest we sent her to FLO…” Seriously, let’s not! (April 6, 2016)

#14. OPM Hack Compromises Federal Employee Records, Not Just PII But Security Clearance Info (June 8, 2015)

#15. Obama Nominates Career Diplomat Laura Farnsworth Dogu as Next Ambassador to Nicaragua (May 14, 2015)

#16. US Embassy Madagascar: A Post Far From Heaven With a $700K Imaginary American Center (May 18, 2015)

#17. Former FSO Michael Sestak Sentenced to 64 Months In Visas For Dollars Scheme (August 14, 2015)

#18. U.S. Passport Agency Contractor, Two Others Indicted for Alleged Use of Stolen Passport Information (May 7, 2015)

#19. Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Top Diplomatic Pooch of All? (February 27, 2015)

#20. 2014 Foreign Service Promotions Stuck on Glue in the Senate. Again. Yo! Wassup? (February 11, 2015)

 

 

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Venezuela: Nicolas Maduro’s Theory of Everything — Blame The Yanquis!

Posted: 19:07 EST
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Saturday was going swell and all until I saw the news out of Venezuela. Apparently, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is not handling the TP for oil offer from Trinidad and Tobago very well.  The Caracas Chronicles calls it Revolutionary TPlomacy or quite simply “toilet paper diplomacy.”  It’s not  just toilet paper, of course,  but …

“The concept of commodity sharing is simple -– the Government of Trinidad and Tobago will purchase goods identified by the Government of Venezuela from T&T’s manufacturers, such as tissue paper, gasoline, and parts for machinery,” Persad-Bissessar said.

 

 

Running out of TP.  A TP-oil swap.  While you’re digesting that, take time to read Daniel Lansberg-Rodríguez’s New Yorker piece, Comedians Waiting for Cars and Coffee.

Bloomberg Business reported that due to the plunging oil prices, “Venezuela’s economy will contract 7 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund, while inflation, which accelerated to 69 percent in December, is already the fastest in the world.”

In 2013,  Venezuela Kicked Out Top US Diplomat, Two Other Officials For … Wait For It ….Blackouts!

In 2014, Venezuela (Where Almost No One Has Toilet Paper) Kicked Out Three U.S. Diplomats for “Flaming” Student Protests

It’s that time of year again.  One wonders when is President Maduro going to declare “Blame the Yanquis for Everything” as the national motto? Of course, sometimes, it just has to be somebody closer.

On February 19, the twice elected mayor or Caracas, Antonio Ledezma was arrested reportedly by some 80 men on charges that he was part of a conspiracy to mount a coup against the Maduro regime.

According to The Economists, this is just the latest of a dozen alleged plots against the president whose government has approval ratings below 20%.

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Here’s something shocking; I’ll never look at a box of cereal the same way again:

 

The NYT also reported that four American missionaries were detained on Wednesday in Ocumare de la Costa, a small coastal town west of Caracas.  The missionaries from the Evangelical Free Church in Devil’s Lake in North Dakota were reportedly providing medical aid to the coastal town’s residents and support to a local church. I don’t know about you but this is not hopeful news for American tourists or for approximately 36,000 Americans living in Venezuela.

 

And there were dueling protests.

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Because what do you do when queues for food are getting longer?  Hold a  major rally “for sovereignty and against U.S. interventionism,” claro que sí!  TeleSUR reported  that during the rally, Maduro announced that he would “reduce the number of U.S. diplomats working in Venezuela.”  The report includes the following actions directed against the United States:

  • Maduro to cheering crowd: “I have ordered the foreign minister, Delcy Rodriguez, to immediately, in compliance with article 11 of the Vienna Convention, to reduce and minimize the number of U.S. embassy officials in Venezuela. They have over 100 officials, while in the U.S. we have no more than 17.”
  • Rodriguez stated that current United States diplomats in Venezuela will have to re-apply for their visas.
  • The U.S. embassy will be required to inform his government of meetings that it has with different sectors of Venezuelan society.
  • United States citizens will have to pay the same price – in dollars –  “for obtaining a visa to travel to Venezuela as the U.S. currently charges Venezuelans to travel to the U.S.” (see the Visa Reciprocity Schedule note that fees are for visa processing and not for visa issuance).
  • Lists Americans who will not be allowed to travel to Venezuela “because of their involvement in human rights violations.” For starters, the list includes George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, George Tenet, Robert Menendez, Marco Rubio, Ileana Ross-Lethinen, and Mario Díaz Balart.

 

 

It’s worth noting that the U.S. Embassy in Caracas is one of the top 10 nonimmigrant processing posts in the world.  In FY2013, the embassy issued 204,758 visitor’s visas and 6,184 student visas (pdf).  The wait time to get an appointment for a visitor’s visa in Caracas is currently 59 days.  Although the reported reduction of the US Embassy Caracas staff has not been confirmed by the State Department, it is highly likely that if it proceeds, the US Embassy Caracas will soon return to the 2011 wait time for appointments for visitors visas which hovered at 264 days. Or depending on how many consular officers will be left at post after this reduction of staff, we could see a much longer wait than that for Venezuelan applicants.

Here’s something else: in FY2013,  124 diplomatic visas (A-1, A-2) were issued to Venezuelan officials assigned to the United States.  That’s a lot more than “we have no more than 17” that the Venezuelan president announced at his blusterous rally.

In any case, the last Senate-confirmed Ambassador to Caracas was Patrick Duddy who served from August 6, 2007 to September 11, 2008, during the Bush Administration. He was later expelled by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Eight months after that he was returned as Ambassador to Caracas by the Obama Administration. He left the mission on July 2010. That same month, Larry Palmer was nominated by President Obama.  By December 2010, the Venezuelan Government had withdrawn its agrément on the appointment of Larry Palmer to Caracas.

On October 1, 2013, the Venezuelan Government declared the U.S. charge d’affaires persona non grata and ordered her expulsion.  The United States Government reciprocated by declaring the Venezuelan charge d’affaires persona non grata. The U.S. Embassy in Caracas is currently headed by career diplomat Lee McClenny who assumed post as Chargé d’Affaires in July 2014. The Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C. is currently headed by the former Venezuelan ambassador to Brazil, Maximilien Sanchez Arvelaiz.

Despite the difficult bilateral relations, we anticipate that Venezuela and the United States will continue to maintain diplomatic relations and embassies in one another’s capitals. Why? Below via the Congressional Research Service:

Venezuela remains a major oil supplier to the United States, even though the amounts and share of U.S. oil imports from the country have been declining because of Venezuela’s decreasing production and the overall decline in U.S. oil imports worldwide. In 2013, Venezuela provided the United States with about 806,000 barrels of total crude oil and products per day, about 8.2 % of total such U.S. imports, making Venezuela the fourth-largest foreign supplier of crude oil and products to the United States in 2012 (after Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico). This is down from 2005, when the United States imported 1.53 million bbl/d of total crude oil and products from Venezuela, accounting for 11% of total U.S. imports.129 According to U.S. trade statistics, Venezuela’s oil exports to the United States were valued at almost $31 billion in 2013, accounting for 97% of Venezuela’s exports to the United States.

The CRS report also notes that Venezuela is scheduled to have legislative elections in September 2015, and that a recall referendum for President Maduro is not possible until 2016. The country’s next presidential election is not due until December 2018.

So what’s in the fopo fortune cookie? “The next 3-4 years will continue to be loud and noisy. The Yanquis will be trotted out at fault at every opportunity.”

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State OIG Appoints Whistleblower Ombudsman, Releases “Know Your Rights” Video

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The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, requires every IG to appoint an Ombudsman.  The Act requires that an ombudsman educate employees about the rights and protections available to whistleblowers.

The State Department IG Steve Linick has appointed Jeff McDermott as Ombudsman for the Department of State and the BBG. Mr. McDermott is a career appointee and his ombudsman duties are in addition to his duties as a senior investigative counsel.  He also serves as the OIG’s representative to the Justice Department’s whistleblower protection committee and counsels individual whistleblowers.  Within OIG, he works with the Office of Investigations to investigate allegations of retaliation by contractor and grantee employees.  He is available to discuss the protections against retaliation and how to make a protected disclosure, but he cannot act as your legal representative or advocate.  You may contact him at at OIGWPEAOmbuds@state.gov. Read more here. The “Know Your Rights” video is here. We asked the OIG a couple of questions:

Q: What protection is there for whistleblowers?

The law protects individuals from reprisal for reporting potential misconduct or alleged criminal activities. Reprisal can come in the form of a prohibited personnel practice which occurs when a person with authority takes, fails to take or threatens to take a personnel action against an employee because of the employee’s protected disclosure and can include details, transfers, reassignments, and significant changes in duties, responsibilities, or working conditions.

Q: Are hotline callers automatically considered whistleblowers? 

No, whether or not a hotline caller is considered a whistleblower depends first on whether the hotline caller has made a protected disclosure. The caller may be entitled to whistleblower protection if he or she indicates that a personnel action was taken because of the protected disclosure. Under the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Office of Special Counsel may receive and investigate claims for whistleblower protection from federal employees, former federal employees, and applicants for federal employment. In addition, OIG offers confidentiality or anonymity to any individual who contacts the hotline and fears retaliation because of the disclosure. In 2013, Congress created a pilot program whereby employees of contractors and grantees who allege they are retaliated against for whistleblowing can request an investigation by the OIG, and in these cases, OIG does determine whether a complainant qualifies as a whistleblower and whether retaliation occurred because of the whistleblowing activity.

We were told by State/OIG that in 2014, the office processed 1,278 Hotline complaints for the calendar year.  We understand that this is generally in line with the amount of complaints the OIG processed in 2013.  However, a significant portion of the OIG complaints reportedly pertain to visa issues, and those complaints are sent to Consular Affairs for appropriate response and action.  Occasionally, the office also receive complaints that do not pertain to Department of State or Broadcasting Board of Governors matters – i.e. Veteran’s Affairs, Department of Justice, Health and Human Services, etc. Those submissions are referred to the appropriate Office of Inspector General and are not counted in State/OIG’s tally of “processed Hotline complaints”.

Some notable whistleblowers have been brought to life on the big screen.  Check out the top 10 whistleblower movies via http://www.WatchMojo.com:

[grabpress_video guid=”2e5ae090f8e0e63adb2b155a5f98a0f150bf36f7″]
Come visit again, bookmark da blog!

 

UPDATE:

“A Concerned FS Officer” sent us the following for your consideration, appended to this post on 2/9/15 at 15:47 PST:

While “retaliation” is officially forbidden, it is close to impossible to prove. Assignments, for example, are at the Dept’s discretion, needs of the service, etc. and it can just be a coincidence that your whistleblowing and your assignment to the butthole of the world coincide. Same of course for the black hole of promotions.

Once you are a troublemaker, er, whistleblower, be prepared for a non-retaliatory “routine” deep dive into your life. Suddenly there’s a need to audit your travel vouchers back to the Dulles era, DS needs to update your clearance based on info received you can’t see, that sort of thing. All of those moves are well-within the Dept’s routine responsibilities and you’ll never prove they’re connected to your talking to the OIG.

If you are contemplating blowing the whistle, speak to a qualified, outside lawyer first. AFSA has its place, but you need serious advice from someone familiar with the real-world case law, not just Dept practices.

 

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