Consular psychology: how to survive visa interview?

Posted on September 16, 2010 by


Here is my response to Sala’s message on visas…

On 9/12/10 4:23 AM, Salanieta T. Tamanikaiwaimaro wrote:
> Dear All,

I find the advocacy for the venues, interesting. I am from Fiji
Islands and found that the Shengan visas relatively easy to acquire. I
know what it’s like to be “Searched” and advised me that I needed to
consent to being searched or not fly at all it was’nt a European
Airport or American Airport but an Australian Airport where I was told
that my forefathers were cannibals…because I wanted to catch my next
flight, I did not make a scene.


Hi Sala,
……. Your mail reminds me of getting a visa; an important – but very often forgotten – discrimination. It is based on the fact that you are born in the ‘wrong’ place at the ‘wrong’ time. I had a unique experience because until my teens I had one of the best passports in the world (Yugoslavia), which enabled me to travel almost anywhere without a visa. Then, like a switch being shut off, I suddenly ended up with passport which required a visa for almost any place in the world (war-torn Yugoslavia). My bad luck was that I had to travel a lot for my work. As an illustration, my passport filled with visas so quickly that I had to get a new passpoert every six months.

In front of the consular officers, we always seem to be weighed down with the ‘presumption of guilt’ trying to prove that we are not a criminal, or a terrorist… you name it and you have it (though, in my rich experience, I have never once been asked to prove that I was not a cannibal; probably because I was often traveling with my vegetarian wife).

My worst memories (today I do not need as many visas) are of interviews with consular officers. In an almost Kafka-like atmosphere, we sit opposite a consular officer who holds our destiny in his hands (predominantly male profession). He can decide if our parents can come and see us and our family; if we can go and study; if we can attend IGF,… (continue the list). And consular officer very often happens to be unhappy with life. Maybe He had different career ideas/expectations … perhaps expecting to negotiate main diplomatic treaties in New York not being stuck in a dusty office of some complicated and remote country having to deal with some ‘strange’ people. And here comes the moment when we, as the applicant, and the officer, as a demi-god, lock eyes for a few seconds. That moment speaks more than all the visa forms ever submitted. We say: ‘Give me the damn visa and make my life easier’. He/she waits for seconds …. seconds that seem like an eternity. The verdict is… We leave the consulate completely drained emotionally (very often even physically).

In my work, I participate in another forum (International Forum on Diplomatic Training) where I always try to promote consular training, especially in emotional aspects of communication. It is not easy since the consular function is the ‘Cinderella’ of modern diplomacy. In many diplomatic services, posting to the consular department is seen as a career “punishment”. This is changing, although not fast enough. Many countries are realising that a few seconds in the consulate can shape people’s experience of their country on a very deep, emotional level.

While it is difficult to change big issues, one can try to make small changes. At Diplo, we always make sure that we do whatever possible to ensure that our fellows (most of them from countries requiring visas) can travel. Our travel coordinator, Milica, is as well-known among our fellows as are Ginger and Vlada who teach them. She is almost on 24-hour alert when people travel (like these days to Vilnius). Very often, it is not enough to send invitation letter and let participants deal with let people sort out their visa problems (send them the letter). We have to call consulates, explain, put a “gentle pressure”. It helps. There is a lot that we can do in order to ensure that people can travel to WSIS 2011 or to any other event.

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