U. S. Consular Service has Customer Service as Priority

By William Doyle-Marshall

If you have been refused a visitor’s visa to enter the United States of America, it is mainly because the officer with whom you interacted had doubts that you will leave his country at the end of your vacation. Acting Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Michelle Bond offered this explanation last Thursday during a briefing with members of the ethnic media at the U.S. Consulate downtown Toronto. She was here on a brief visit and the press conference was hosted by the U.S. Consulate.
   Quizzed about the many questions visa applicants have to answer in their application form, Ambassador Bond said when someone is applying for a tourist visa part of what her staff tries to determine is: if this person gets the visa and travels to the States will he or she do what they say they are going to do: go and spend two weeks touring the United States and then come back here to Canada or might they decide to stay in the United States?
   Admitting the difficulty to determine what is in the mind of the applicant, she confessed: “We can’t know what people’s intentions are”. In fact, Ambassador Bond disclosed that her staff members are looking for evidence that people are so well established here in Canada that it really wouldn’t make any sense for them to stay in Chicago and work illegally as a waiter, for example. “Sometimes when people are refused it maybe because they haven’t been here very long and they can’t show that they are established here; that this is their home now, this is their life,” Acting `Assistant Secretary Bond continued.
   It’s not at all unusual for a person to be refused a visa and then a few years later they qualify for that visa because they have more to show of what their established position is, the Ambassador noted. Emphasizing that lots of questions are asked, she explained what results from the exercise is staff is better prepared when applicants come in for their interview. “We can make a much more quick and efficient and a focused interview,” the Ambassador emphasized.
  With the focus on improving customer service the Ambassador promised to continue looking for ways to shave that time down on the length of time people spend in order to obtain their visas. “We have a lot of respect for the value of our applicants’ time and we do not want them to waste hours sitting and waiting for us to be ready to assist them after they come into the building,” Bond promised. Providing prompt service to people here and in any other country around the world who require a U.S. visa promptly when they think that they need one and want to travel in the United States is a priority for her Government, the Ambassador assured. U.S. Consular staff are required to maintain a service level so that people could get an appointment for a visa interview within no more than three weeks. At almost every single one of the diplomatic posts around the world, they are operating within that three week wait time, Bond said. At most of our posts the wait is less than three weeks.
   Priority appointments are provided for some travelers. “Students are one example because we don’t want students to start classes late if they are attending a school in the United States. Currently it takes about 15 days on average to get a visa interview appointment here in Toronto and if people are applying for a visa for an emergency purpose: suppose someone in their immediate family has been involved in a bad accident in the United States and they are trying to get to the hospital to deal with them or if there is a funeral or some other urgent, urgent travel like that, we do everything possible to provide immediate urgent appointment for that sort of travel,” Acting Assistant Secretary Bond continued.
  The U.S. Government also conduct a lot of outreach to residents of this consulate district in order to maintain the highest possible level of customer service. The intent said the Ambassador is to be sure the word is out to people about what to expect when they come in for visa interview; what to bring with them to show that they are eligible to receive that visa. The whole intention is for people to have good information and to feel comfortable and prepared for the interview when they come in. both the non-immigrant visa unit staff and also the members of our staff who work in the American citizen services Unit conduct outreach throughout the year. We are promoting travel and tourism in the United States.
   When members of the National Ethnic Media and Press Council of Canada headed by Thomas Saras arrived at the Consulate, they were scanned electronically prior to entering the building. It felt as though they were about to board an aircraft at Pearson. Some journalists were asked to surrender their identification and were given temporary passes to attend the press conference. A visibly upset Saras threatened to leave along with his members. But some hastened conference among Consulate officials resulted in feathers being smoothened. Ambassador Bond said it was standard procedure. “If I am visiting an embassy and I don’t have the right ID with me I would give in my driver’s license, they would keep it, they would give me the visitor ID,” she explained. Bond believed part of the reason journalists’ identification were held was for easy reference later if someone forgot and walked away with the temporary day pass so they could be contacted.
September 27, 2014