Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Visa Line Rule One:
If the answer won't influence your decision, don't ask the question.

Visa Line Rule Two:
If an applicant's circumstances haven't changed since her last visa interview, the result of this interview won't change either.

Yesterday I had a DVC with Tokyo regarding E visas -- that is to say, business visas. Being at a consulate often means taking direction from people who are far away and don't always know the particulars of your situation. You can't take it personally; it's the embassy's job.

Tokyo seems concerned with our business visa practices. Maybe they ought to be. Not only am I not especially fond of our current system, but (personally speaking) I couldn't care any less about the intricacies of business visas. If a globally significant japanese company wants to send you to its US branch, odds are you're getting a visa. Does it really matter if it's an H1B or an E2 or a B1? Either way, you're going. You can have a Q visa for all I care. I get no pleasure from the 'Aha! You're asking for an E1, but actually you ought to be applying for an L1A.' moment. In fact, today anyways, I can think of no part of this job which imparts pleasure.

It's strange: if I were doing this work in any other capacity, I would have quit a long time ago. To have a job that is so psychologically draining it makes me turn down sidestreets, leave letters upopened, delete unread emails, and switch off the ringer on my phone all to avoid interacting even with people I consider friends* is ridiculous. To be sent to another country to do one more year of work for which I'm so wildly unsuited reaches sublime levels of absurdity. But it's stupid to consider other options. Refer to Rule One. I don't want to leave the FS -- I just want to push back my chair from the proverbial visa table and declare 'I'm full'.

Myers-Briggs says you can gauge job related stress in the following fashion: 1. Assess your job activities and assign them Myers-Briggs types; 2. See how closely the resulting types fit your own profile; 3. Lack of overlap = stress.

So. Hours of talking everyday: that's an 'E'. Attention to small concrete details, as opposed to big picture policy: that's an 'S'. Making decisions based on objective rules instead of personal relationships: that's a 'T'. Having things constantly thrown at you, with no sense of priority or scheduling: that's a 'P'.

Visa work is ESTP. I'm INTJ. And 'T' is my most borderline category. No wonder I wake up every morning wanting to punch the sun in the face. It's hard facing two more years of this -- two more years of always feeling crowded, edgy, and exhausted. Two more years of never getting to achieve a level of human interaction I would consider normal.

People keep saying it will get better. No it won't. Refer to Rule Two. What a shame that so much of life is just something to be gotten through!

And sir, I'm so sorry, but it looks like you'd be much better off applying for an L instead of an E...

*But please don't quit talking to me! I'm trying, I promise.


Catherine said...

I'm INFJ, with P/J being my most closely contested category. I'm 50-50 on the P-J scale. I think it comes down to what mood I'm in.

Glad you're well!


(freckleyface.greatestjournal.com)...please ignore more recent postings. Alexandria has been a little insane about St. Patrick's Day these many weeks....)

Anonymous said...

So, are there ESTPs who actually enjoy it? (Consular-tracked FS candidate, hoping I haven't made a BIG mistake...)

Consul-At-Arms said...

Hang in there, you're doing good work, important work, and the experience will stand you in good stead later in your career.

I've quoted from and linked to you here: http://consul-at-arms.blogspot.com/2007/03/visa-interviewing-and-personal.html

Katie said...

Not to fret -- there are some people who really enjoy visa work. I have one friend in particular who is having the time of his life in Tokyo, on his second consular tour. And if you're good at consular work, and can stay upbeat, you will be a veritable rockstar in the FS world. One of the most dynamic people in all of the State Department right now is the head of Consular Affairs.

Um, but clearly I will only ever be a groupie.

Oh, the the 'P' part of that equation is related to serving at a small consulate. Bigger embassies can parse up the visa load more, and make things more predictable...

MC said...

Thank you so much for saying this. I was beginning to think I was alone in feeling this way about the work, and that everyone else was right by saying it's just me having a bad attitude.

The thing about the MBTI is interesting and new to me, but makes all sorts of sense. I'm INFP, but I'm at the giant visa-mill type place, so there's less P than J going on around here.

fsowalla said...

Nice post. It goes a long way to highlighting the importance of bid lists and "choosing" how you rank things. Back in my day (ha, didn't think I'd ever need to say that) it was easier to choose rotational jobs rather than straight 2 year jobs. I hear that's changed? Even then, the days on the visa line seemed like a constant battle to win small victories like finishing interviews with enough time to join colleagues at McDonald's or read a book in solitude, having an old grand mother kiss the plexiglass window -- leaving lip marks for days -- when I approved her visa (no, I don't know if she came back), or just being able to get home with enough energy to go out and explore the city with friends.

It doesn't necessarily get better with non-consular jobs. You'll hear people complain about the boring people they meet, reading the same reports year after year, that nobody reads the work they produce, that nobody cares anyway, that they have no interest in checking grant proposals or filling out IV nominations, that their opinion doesn't matter, etc.

To each their own, but personally, the most useful thing for me has been to remind myself why I joined the FS in the first place. For me it was the travel and opportunity to work internationally. That made a difference both in deciding whether to stay in the career or not, regardless of Meyers-Briggs type, and in getting through the crappy days.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to you and MC for posting about this. It's nice to know I'm not the only one feeling crappy.

I'm an ENTJ who's gone total polar opposite E because of the stress of hard language learning and I'm an off the scale E under normal circumstances.

I haven't hit the line yet, just in hard language training before first tour, and the past few months have totally sucked. I've struggled big-time.

I'm not sure post will be any better - they seem very uptight and uncaring.

Next tour ISO middle of nowhereville. I don't care if it's boring if management there knows you are human (and acknowledges it!).

NoZe said...

I feel your pain, Katie. At this point, I can do 120 visa interviews a day in my sleep, but its not terribly rewarding! I rotate into Citizens Services in about a month...at least that will be a change of pace!

You know, if consular work was really that rewarding, would they have to spend so much time telling us how rewarding it is?

What keeps me going is seeing the kind of work officers in my cone get to do...I'm chomping at the bit to finish this tour and (hopefully) get something more down my alley for the next one.

Oh, and traveling Mexico has been great as well!