Consular officers lives are all about stories….A father and mother visiting their only child who is graduating from university in the United States; a businessman going to New York for a business transaction valued in the millions of dollars; a high school student leaving China for the first time to attend school in the United States; a famous movie director going to Hollywood for business; a group of acrobats going to perform in Missouri; and a grandmother going to meet her grandchild for the first time. What do all of these people have in common？They are all someone a consular officer may interview in one day, even within one hour. During one working day, a consular officer truly hears multiple stories which, taken together, tell the story of the country we are serving in. In China, we hear a story of how large and diverse the country is and how much the country has changed since that grandmother was born so many years ago. Working in China also gives us our own story to tell now and to our grandchildren.
Each day in the life of a consular officer is different. A typical day may begin with us interviewing many of the applicants described above. Each officer interviews over one hundred applicants a day, given us the chance to hear many stories. Unfortunately, a few of the stories we here are aren’t the whole truth, and it is upsetting to see applicants ruin their chance to get a visa. We also do not like refusing visa applications, but a small portion of people do not qualify under our visa law. Fortunately, approximately 90% of Chinese visa applications are approved, so our day hearing stories on the visa line is generally a good day, but tiring!
Sometimes, we are happy because we truly make a difference in the stories of peoples’ lives. When I worked in Australia, I remember taking an emergency appointment on a Friday afternoon for a wife whose husband was in a serious car accident in the United States. I was able to approve her visa, but it wouldn’t be ready until Saturday. I agreed to come in on the weekend and print the visa myself to give it to her so she could fly to America to see her husband in the hospital. She was forever grateful that we went “beyond the call of duty” and helped her in this way. I was happy we made a difference to her even though the personal story was not a happy one. We do similar work here in China. A group of us worked on weekends last summer to issue visas for the Strategic and Economic dialogue. We knew this was an important forum for our two countries to talk about issues of mutual concerns, and despite the world-wide computer problems we were facing then, we were able to get the Chinese delegation to the United States on time. Again, we were happy to make a difference.
After we interview visa applications and work on the remaining cases at our desk, we have other work to do. Sometimes, our work might be considered “high-level” such as helping with the visit of our important officials like President Obama or the Secretary of State. Usually our work for those events is not that important, though. The thing we like doing the most is public outreach. We visit schools to explain to students how to apply for a student visa. We also travel to different provinces to talk with travel agents and potential visa applicants to explain any changes in visa policy. We really like doing these kinds of events because it gives us a better understanding of this fascinating country and more stories to tell!
Then, at the end of our day, we go home to our own families and friends. We share our stories with each other. At the end of the day, Chinese, Americans, everyone… are all about our experiences we’ve lived and the stories we have as a result of those interesting experiences.