I’ve been living in Cabo Verde for six months! I’ve visited four of ten Cabo Verdean islands, adjudicated more than 1,200 visas, and submitted my bid list for my next post. Yikes. And now that I have a better understanding of what I do (it was a long learning curve), I thought I’d fill you all in as well. So below, I present: A Day in the Life of the American Vice Consul in Cabo Verde. Also known as, me.
I nudge the curb and gear my car into park, proud of myself for once again surviving the seven hectic traffic circles between my house and the U.S. Embassy. I open the car door, letting myself adjust to the buzz of street noise before swinging out onto the cobblestones. I say hello to the group of women who sit on plastic buckets selling fresh tuna to pedestrians and walk through the sunny breeze while rummaging through my purse for my security badge. As I pass the line of visa applicants outside the embassy who certainly woke up much earlier than I, I wonder who decided that American embassies should open an hour earlier than any other American office on the planet.
I settle into my chair and flip on the desk lamp I brought to improve the office’s fluorescent lighting. As I pull a Tupperwared muffin out of my purse, I ponder if any of my houseplants could survive a move to my window-less desk. I log onto my computer and start typing out responses to last night’s emails.
By 9am, the Consular section’s local staff have gotten a head start on applicant intake and my boss and I are called to the windows to begin our interviews for the day. All Cabo Verdeans need a visa to visit, study, or work in the United States and must come to the U.S. Embassy for a visa interview. My boss and I will spend the next few hours interviewing applicants in Portuguese through bullet-proof glass to determine if they are eligible for visas to the United States. There are thousands of U.S. immigration laws, exceptions, and ineligibilities to consider. I often stare blankly at applicants as my mind spins through the rolodex of immigration rules that may apply to any one particular case. In the end, there is only time to speak to each applicant for about three minutes. This is also the most heartbreaking part of the job, as it often involves denying the visas of perfectly nice people who don’t qualify for the visas for which they applied. Parents argue. Children cry. Grandmas glare.
I return all my checklists and guides to their blue folder, switch off my window’s microphone and return to my office, rethinking the morning’s cases. I check emails and hope I don’t see anyone that I denied at lunch.
Following a sunny lunch at one of the outdoor cafes near the Embassy, I head back to the office to fight back the growing stack of applicant folders that have begun to pile up on my desk. This involves running name checks, checking fingerprint and facial recognition databases, requesting and sorting additional documentation, and looking up the finer details of immigration law in the State Department’s 800+ page guidance. I feel very academic and lawyerly. But usually at about three cases in, I remember why I’m glad I’m not a lawyer.
Once I’ve sorted through all my applicant cases for the day, I have a few hours to work on some long-term projects. These projects include everything from revamping our applicant waiting room, to planning educational videos for the Facebook page, or organizing outreach trips to the other islands to answer Cabo Verdeans’ visa questions in person. The Consular section does data validation studies to determine if people are using their visas correctly. We write editorials to explain the finer points of immigration law to the Cabo Verdean public. We debate new U.S. immigration policy changes and research how these changes will affect our adjudications. At the end of the day, our goal is two-sided: to prevent illegal immigration and visa misuse, but to also encourage legitimate travel to the U.S.
The U.S. Embassy in Praia is small, and unlike most embassies, we don’t have U.S. Marine guards for security. This means that one of us diplomats is responsible for kicking everyone out of their offices each night and making sure the embassy is secured until the next morning. So at 5:30pm, I usually find myself scrambling to answer one last email, making sure all the Consular safes are locked, and hitting the lights.
Until tomorrow – até amanhã!