8. Foreign Service Functions—Five Tracks
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187 8 Foreign Service Functions: Five Tracks FSOs are career candidates until approved for tenure by a commissioning and tenure board. New FSOs, whether they start at the entry level or (as some do) in the middle grades, have five years to make the cut. The first two tours, normally two years each, are critical. In most cases, the first tour is overseas, and the great majority of second tours as well. These first two tours give the candidates a chance to size up the service, and vice versa. Entry-level officers don’t always have the chance to spend time working in the track they chose when they signed up for the foreign service exam. The service must fulfill the demands that law and regulation place upon it to screen foreigners who want to come to the United States. Entry-level officers carry a lot of that load. So, for most new officers, the first tour, and sometimes the second, is largely or wholly in consular affairs. Work in the track of choice may not begin until tenure has been awarded. Consular Affairs Consular officers have two primary duties: to administer the visa provisions of US immigration law and to provide welfare and protective services to American citizens abroad. Consuls and vice consuls meet more people, and more kinds of people, than anyone else in an embassy, though usually under unfavorable conditions and rarely with time to chat. They see a society’s middle class and underclass, not just its elites. They get little credit when things go right but lots of blame when things go wrong. They have commissions that allow them to perform consular functions, and most ambassadors don’t, so if they hang tough on a decision they are hard to push around. They have tradition and history on their side, and also a flag, a white C surrounded by thirteen stars on a blue field, displayed in consular waiting rooms and offices. They put up with a lot of routine and drudgery, but they have some spectacular adventures and, always, the best stories. 188  The Career No one enters the foreign service with a background in consular work. Training is extensive and essential. New officers heading out to consular assignments pass through FSI’s courses at ConGen Rosslyn (ConGen for consulate general, Rosslyn for the Arlington, Virginia, neighborhood where the facility is located). The program gets high marks. Consular officer Marcos Mandojana explains, “I got consular training at FSI, and I thought that was good. They split it up into nonimmigrant visa [tourist, business, student], immigrant visa, and American citizen services, just like the posts. There were examinations for each phase. Lots of role play. We visited prisoners in jail with realistic settings, like rats in the cells. We did interviews. I think you know quite a bit about the rules when you finish. You know what the resources are, who to contact.”1 Visas Visa work absorbs the bulk of consular resources. A visa, usually in the form of a fraud-proof, machine-readable, printed photo ID stamped in a foreign traveler’s passport, indicates a consul’s approval of a request for permission to enter the United States. Possession of a visa does not guarantee entry, which is controlled at the port of entry by officers of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), but it is extremely rare for holders of valid visas to be turned away on arrival. In fiscal year 2009, foreign service posts issued close to half a million immigrant visas (for people who plan to stay in the United States) and close to 6 million nonimmigrant visas (for people who intend to leave after their visit). Nearly 2 million nonimmigrant applicants were turned down.2 Under regulations issued after September 11, 2001, every one of these applicants must be interviewed in person by an American consular officer.3 The busiest visa post in the world is Manila, Marcos Mandojana’s first post: You spend the first couple of days observing another junior officer on the line. Nonimmigrant visas were the heaviest workload. Immigrant visas were mostly paperwork, but we often did over a hundred cases a day per person. It was grueling. Manila was number one in output that year. You start slow, but with a little experience you can speed up. You begin to recognize patterns of fraud. FSI had given me six months of training in Tagalog, and when the applicants whispered to each other, “cry now...