Sunday, June 15, 2014

The view from my offic(l)e


Two weeks with zero posts!

Who would have guessed that I switched sections at the beginning of June? And yes, I am blaming my new job responsibilities for the lack of updates here. I switched from interviewing immigrant visa applicants (which I've done since January) to working in American Citizen Services. Not only do I work in ACS, I kind of am ACS now. It's a one-American show over there, at least until fall, so I am both the newest ACS officer and the acting ACS chief. Woo-hoo! I even get my own cubicle/office (we're calling them officles, not sure if that's a real word).

So far I'm really enjoying the work. There's a lot of variety, I'm learning a ton, and it just feels like the section where you get to say yes the most. That's the tough thing about NIV (at least here in Lagos). You have to give people bad news - ALL DAY LONG. In my case, for a year straight - or around 17,000 visas worth. Now, not everyone gets bad news, but still, we say no way more often than officers do in Rio or many of the other visa mills. Switching to immigrant visas was nice - for 5 months I got to have actual in-depth conversations with people, I got to say yes much more often, and I gained experience in another branch of consular work. But it was still interviewing and I still faced that uncomfortable task of trying to judge intangible things (in the case of NIV - people's intention to migrate or not, in the case of IV - their relationships) based on limited evidence. It gave me a new appreciation for people who make a career out of that sort of thing. It's a heavy burden to try to make perfect decisions based on imperfect information - especially when your decisions so directly impact other people's lives. I'm glad to have had the experience of the visa work, but I can't lie - it isn't easy.

Anyway, back to ACS. Most of what I do, the 'day job' of the ACS section - is issue passports and Consular Reports of Birth Abroad (CRBAs) to American citizens. Basically zero judgment involved. I collect the documents and if they aren't sufficient I ask to see more. And then I say yes - beautiful. It appeals to the side of me that enjoys customer service. And after all the routine stuff (or sometimes awkwardly right in the middle of it) are all the random things that give ACS its variety. A destitute citizen needs to be repatriated - along with her four small children - requiring approvals and loans and hours of paperwork. A parent in the middle of an international parental child abduction case requests a welfare and whereabouts visit. A US-citizen dies in a far-away city and we need to coordinate repatriation of the remains for his family. Oil workers get kidnapped. People call about their legal troubles. Someone gets arrested. You just never know what's going to happen. (But you can bank on it happening on a Friday afternoon, just about closing time!)

And on top of it all, there are the ubiquitous scam calls and emails. I may have mentioned before what it's like to deal with scam calls. Now I get to deal with them every day! It's still a combination of heartbreaking and frustrating, especially when the victim refuses to believe they are being scammed.

All this - and the added responsibility and independence that comes with running the show by myself - has been keeping me busy lately. But I'm very fortunate to have this opportunity. It's uncommon for an officer to get to rotate through all three sections of consular in one tour - especially in a post like mine with only one ACS job to go around. So I'll try to make the most of this chance while I have it. And I'll try not to go so long without posting too!

Stay tuned for my South Africa trip update soon. I promise I will eventually post it - ideally before my next set of travels!

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