China Changes Visa Rules for U.S. Citizens

By TINI TRAN, Associated Press Writer
Tue May 5, 10:28 am ET

China has tightened visa rules for citizens from the United States, which has reported the second highest number of swine flu cases in the world.

A notice dated May 3 on the Web site for the Chinese Embassy and its consulates in the U.S. said that all visa applications would now require six business days to process, with express and rush services for visa applications suspended until further notice.

It is unclear exactly why the rules have been changed, but it came hot on the heels of strident measures by China to contain any possible spread of swine flu, including quarantining of some foreign nationals.

The new visa regulation, effective as of May 4, appears to apply to all Chinese visas, including tourist and business categories. Visa applicants are also required to fill out a form declaring which countries and U.S. states they had visited two weeks prior.

Previously, U.S. nationals could obtain visas in as little as one day.

More than 1,400 people globally have been infected with swine flu, with Mexico reporting the most confirmed cases with 802. The United States so far has reported 380 cases in more than 30 states.

On Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu refused to address the specific visa changes for Americans, saying only that “relevant adjustment (to the visa policy) is non-discriminatory and is not targeted at any country. The adjustment of visa policy will not affect the normal entry of foreigners and exchanges of people.”

The new rules do not appear to be in effect for any other country, including Spain or Canada, where swine flu has also been detected.

China has already earned the ire of the Mexican government for its aggressive quarantine measures after a Mexican traveler flying to Hong Kong via Shanghai was diagnosed with the illness over the weekend.

More than 70 Mexicans were quarantined in hotels and hospitals in mainland China. A plane chartered by the Mexican government arrived in several cities in China on Tuesday to pick up these and other Mexican citizens and take them home.

China has denied singling out Mexicans, saying it was purely a medical matter and that it hoped Mexico would be “objective and calm.”

A group of 29 Canadian students and their professor were also being held in isolation in China. Two Americans were in isolation while another two who were in quarantine have been released.

Last year, China severely tightened visa regulations ahead of the Olympic Games in August as part of a wider security clampdown, and earlier this month, travel agencies in Hong Kong reported that visa restrictions were being tightened again ahead of the 60th anniversary in October of the communist nation’s founding.

Last week, government spokeswoman Jiang Yu said the reports of changes to visa regulations were “groundless.”

China Forces Dozens of Mexican and Canadian Travelers into Quarantine

May 4: The Wall Street Journal reports that the A/H1N1 flu outbreak is leading to a potential diplomatic row between China and Mexico. Chinese health authorities are rounding up and quarantining scores of Mexicans — only one of whom is thus far reported to be sick –as they fly in on business and holiday trips.

Update May 5: Mexico charges that China’s actions have been discriminatory. And a Mexican plane is en route to pick up the quarantined Mexicans in Beijing and transport them home, according to Reuters.

Update May 6: According to the AP, a government-chartered jet has landed in Mexico carrying dozens of citizens who were quarantined in China despite having no symptoms of swine flu. First lady Margarita Zavala and officials from the Foreign Relations Department waited to greet the passengers as they deplaned at Mexico City’s international airport just before dawn Wednesday. Authorities did not say exactly how many passengers were on the plane but estimated the number at about 140. Mexico has criticized the quarantine as unfair and discriminatory. Of the 71 Mexicans held at hospitals and hotels in China, Mexican diplomats say none had swine flu symptoms. China defended its measures to block the swine flu virus from entering the world’s most populous nation.

Update May 8: Wall Street Journal reports that Canada is concerned over 22 University of Montreal students with no apparent flu symptoms who were put into isolation after getting off a place in Changhun, Jilin Province.

AmCham-China 2009 White Paper

white_paperThe American Chamber of Commerce-China has just released its 2009 White Paper on the state of business in China. It was my pleasure to this year again draft the chapter on U.S. Visa Policy.

The White Paper is based on the views and experiences of AmCham members working and living in China. It gives recommendations on improving the business environment in China to promote economic growth in the midst of the current global downturn. The White Paper includes a chapter on visa policy because for U.S. businesses to succeed in China they need to be able to send Chinese employees back to the U.S. for meetings, training, and project work.

The White Paper is here, and the chapter on U.S. Visa Policy is here.

Beijing Tightens Visa Controls as Anniversary Approaches

South China Morning Post
Kristine Kwok in Beijing
Updated on Apr 29, 2009

Chairman Mao proclaims the founding of the PRC (Oct. 1, 1949)
Chairman Mao proclaims the founding of the PRC (Oct. 1, 1949)

Mainland authorities have once again tightened visa procedures for foreigners in the run-up to the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, travel industry sources said yesterday.

The latest curbs have raised concerns that the central government is reintroducing the draconian visa policy enforced before and during the Beijing Olympics last year.

Under the policy introduced two weeks ago, all new business visas issued recently will expire on September 15, three mainland visa agents confirmed.

Applications for the business visas, also called F visas, beyond September 15 would be put on hold, pending further government clarification, the agents said. “We don’t know what is going to happen after September 15. More policies will probably be introduced as National Day approaches. We’ll have to wait and see,” Marcy Shen Lijun, a visa consultant based in Shanghai, said.

Existing F visas that expired after September 15 would not be affected as they were issued before the introduction of the new policy, agents said. Visa procedures for tourists and students had not been affected yet, they said.

However, information remained sketchy. Foreign applicants have had different experiences in obtaining new visas, with some saying that they had already had problems in applying before September 15.

At least one international conference to be held in Beijing next month had been forced to postpone to November as a result, said Shanghai-based American writer Adam Minter, who registered for the event. He said that he had been told by the organisers the conference could not go ahead as many foreign participants were unable to secure visas.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said she was not aware of the new restrictions, but many expatriates on the mainland said they had found it more difficult to secure new visas.

The tightening of the procedures echoes similar arrangements mainland authorities put in place during the Olympics.

A ceremony is to be staged in Beijing on October 1 to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding. All state leaders will be attending the celebration, which will also feature a military parade. Beijing will be taking no chances on anything ruining the celebration. It earlier announced that security measures for the anniversary would be similar to those operating during the Olympics.

Ms Shen and two other Beijing-based visa agents said the new policies were introduced to control the influx of foreigners, and the authorities believed this could improve stability and security.

One visa agent in Beijing said: “It’s just like the Olympic Games. The government wants to control the number of [foreign] people in China. The smaller the size, the easier it is to control.”

Last year, Beijing imposed a series of entry restrictions in the run-up to the Olympics in August, dealing serious blows to the capital’s tourism industry and some in the business sector. Most of the regulations were lifted after the Games, while some have remained in place. The visa agents said it had been much easier to obtain visas after the Games.

The American Chamber of Commerce and European Union Chamber of Commerce said they had yet to receive any complaints about visa problems from their members.

USCIS Focuses Fraud Investigations on Small Companies

I previously reviewed a September 2008 USCIS report, entitled H-1B Benefit Fraud & Compliance Assessment, finding that small companies are more likely than large companies to violate the rules related to employing workers with H-1B visas.

In January 2009, I reported that USCIS had implemented the report’s recommendations by closely scrutinizing small companies filing H-1B petitions, including asking for extremely detailed financial information, zoning records, payroll data, evidence of business contracts, and much more.

Now, USCIS has inadvertently leaked an internal “H-1B Petition Fraud Referral Sheet” showing that all petitions for small companies are automatically referred for special fraud investigations. Specifically, any petition that meets 2 of the 3 following criteria must be referred: (a) gross income less than $10 million; (b) less than 25 employees; and (c) company established for less than 10 years.

I continue to believe that cracking down on small business owners is the wrong strategy. It seems to me that the main problem is that the H-1B rules are hyper technical. They consist of hundreds of pages of regulations from USCIS, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the U.S. Department of State. Large companies hire outside immigration lawyers llike our firm, have in-house immigration specialists, and perform periodic compliance audits. Small businesses don’t command such resources. To improve compliance rates among small businesses, the best thing to do is to simplify the bewildering maze of rules.

Gazing Into the Crystal Ball–Part III–Changes in Fingerprint Procedures for Visa Applicants

fingerprintIn August 2008, I reported that the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, planned to outsource part of the U.S. visa application process—fingerprinting would be done by private contractors at a separate facility.

This began on April 6. Before going to the visa appointment at the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, applicants must first make a separate fingerprint appointment at an Application Support Center (ASC) facility across town.  While the goal is to allow applicants to schedule the ASC in the morning before the consular interview in the afternoon, currently the appointments must be on separate days.

This arrangement may save the State Department money and may reduce crowding in one of the busiest consulates in the world.

But what about customer service? It seems that the State Department forgot to take into account the convenience to the hundreds of thousands of applicants served each year. They now need two appointments in different locations on separate days. For applicants who don’t live in Ciudad Juarez, an extra night’s hotel stay is also needed.

The State Department envisions using this model at other Consulates worldwide. OK. But make sure the ASC is next door to the Consulate so an applicant needs just one appointment to both get fingerprinted at the ASC and then attend the consular interview next door.

USCIS Says Annual H-1B Visa Cap Not Yet Reached

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced yesterday that the annual H-1B visa cap of 65,000 new H-1B petitions had not yet been reached. In fact, USCIS has only reached “about half” that number of petitions, according to a USCIS spokesman.

As background, H-1B visas are temporary work visas for professionals. There is an annual cap of 65,000 new H-1B petitions that can be approved, 20,000 of which are set aside only for persons with at least a U.S. master’s degree. H-1B petitions are accepted by USCIS beginning on April 1 of each year for work to begin on October 1 of the same year.

Blame it on the economy. Last year, within one week of April 1, USCIS received requests for about double the visas that could be issued for the fiscal year. Two years ago, the cap on H-1B petitions was reached in two days before the agency stopped accepting the applications. In fact, for each of the five previous years, the H-1B cap has been filled before October 1.

Many companies have complained about the artificially low cap on H-1Bs. “U.S. employers deserve better than a random lottery to determine if they can hire the highly educated candidates they need,” Robert Hoffman, vice president for government and public affairs at Oracle.

There’s no way to calculate when this year’s H-1B cap will be reached.

Free DVD—Travel USA 101

America welcomes you! The American Chamber of Commerce-China, with the participation of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, has released Travel USA 101, a Chinese-language DVD explaining how travelers to the U.S. can apply for visas, and the best places to visit, shop, and party in the U.S.

If you would like a copy of the DVD, send an email to gary@lawandborder.com with your name and complete address. Don’t forget to mention Travel USA 101. (We respect your privacy. Your contact information will not be retained or used for any purpose other than to send you the DVD).

One reason the U.S. is now a prime destination for Chinese travelers is that the U.S. and Chinese governments have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) facilitating Chinese group travel to the United States. Under the MOU, U.S. travel destinations can advertise in China, approved Chinese travel agencies can organize group leisure travel to the U.S., and the U.S. Consulates in China will book group visa appointments for such groups. According to forecasts, by 2011 there will be 579,000 Chinese visitors to the U.S. annually.

This DVD will help you understand the best options for group leisure travel to the U.S. and how to maximize your chances of obtaining a visa. The DVD also features information about the best hotels, shopping, and major attractions in the U.S.

Request your free copy now.

EB-5 Regional Centers Stay Alive … for the Moment

On March 11 the President signed the Fiscal 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, H.R. 1105, extending the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Pilot Program. 

This is the Pilot Program that allows USCIS to receive, process, and adjudicate Forms I-526, Immigrant Petitions by Alien Entrepreneur, affiliated with Regional Centers relying on “indirect” job creation analysis. The law also gives USCIS the power to approve applications for adjustment of status on the basis of such I-526s and gives U.S. Consulates the power to approve applications for immigrant visas on the basis of such I-526s. Currently, there are 45 regional centers throughout the United States.

Unfortunately, the Pilot Program was extended only through September 30, 2009. This leaves investors in doubt–if they invest in a Regional Center now, their applications for adjustment of status or immigrant visas will only be approved after September 30 if the law is extended once more.

Such a short extension doesn’t exactly inspire foreign investors’ confidence in the American economy, does it?

Advice for Dealing with Long SAO Waits

Parying Mantis

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, nonimmigrant visa applicants are now waiting for 12-14 weeks for Visas Mantis security advisory opinions (SAOs). This SAO is a security check to ensure that science and technology students and professionals seeking U.S. visas aren’t likely to try to illegally export U.S. technologies. These waits are terribly disruptive to business and universities. Continue reading “Advice for Dealing with Long SAO Waits”

As Processing Times Rise, the Spotlight Shines on SAOs Again

Visas Mantis SAO processing times have risen to 12-14 weeks, causing disruptions in the lives of travelers planning to enter the U.S. on nonimmigrant visas. For example, many students and temporary workers who returned home for vacation during Christmas 2008 are still awaiting their visas to return to school and work. Continue reading “As Processing Times Rise, the Spotlight Shines on SAOs Again”

How Many Chinese are Unauthorized Immigrants in the U.S.?

According to a new study by the Department of Homeland Security, as of January 2007 there were 11.8 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. Among them, 290,000 were born in China. This is a 49% increase in the number of Chinese unauthorized immigrants since 2000. China ranks fifth on the list of source countries for unauthorized immigrants, after Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Philippines. The term “unauthorized immigrants” here refers to persons who entered the U.S. without inspection or who were admitted temporarily and stayed past the date they were required to leave. See Michael Hoefer, et al., Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2007 (USCIS Sept. 2008).

Here’s my take on this study. The study doesn’t explain whether the rate at which Chinese are violating U.S. the immigration laws (i.e., entering without inspection or overstaying their visas) is increasing or decreasing. It’s possible that the rate has decreased significantly due to improving social and economic conditions in China. The figures may not reflect this decrease because, according to some sources, there are up to 50,000 PRC citizens in the U.S. with final orders of deportation who have not been repatriated because the PRC government has not cooperated sufficiently by issuing the necessary travel papers for them to be returned to China. If this is true, a large percentage of the increase in the number of unauthorized immigrants from China may be due to the slow rate of violators departing the U.S., not due to the rate of violations by new entrants.

Gazing into the Crystal Ball–Part II: Future Changes in U.S. Visa Processing

Last year I wrote a post about possible future changes in U.S. visa processing. The State Department has now released more information about their plans, allowing a clearer glimpse at the future of visa processing.

A Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) has been created by the State Department with the goal of supporting “an Internet-based, full-service application service center” where nonimmigrant and immigrant visa applicants will be able to complete and submit applications, make payments, attach photos, and track their application status. Applicants will be able to scan and submit documents (e.g., bank statements and court records) electronically with their application forms. The CEAC could represent a major leap forward for a number of reasons. For example:

  • SAOs: Currently some applicants need to wait up to 12-14 weeks for a security advisory opinion (SAO). The State Department doesn’t begin this security check until after the interview, when the applicant has submitted required documents. Perhaps in the future the SAO process could begin before the interview–as soon as the documents are submitted.
  • Mail and Customs Delays: Currently immigrant visa and K-1 fiancee visa applicants need to collect civil documents in China (e.g., police letters, marriage and birth certificates), mail them to the National Visa Center (NVC) in the U.S., and then wait for the NVC to mail the documents back to the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou. Mail can literally take months to get to the Consulate because of delays by Chinese Customs. NVC has already begun experimenting with using scanned documents instead of mail. Expansion of these efforts could significantly reduce visa wait times.

Of course, as with any technology developments, the devil is in the details. Will the CEAC create a bright, shiny visa future, or a bug-filled software nightmare?

The Case of Zhao C: What It Means for U.S. Immigrant Visa Applicants

Many Chinese have followed with interest the case of Zhao C. This young man had used “C” as his given name for his entire life, but when he needed to update his national ID card to a second-generation version, the local Public Security Bureau refused to use that name on the grounds that it was not a legal name and that PSB computers are not equipped to handle names with non-standard characters. Zhao took the PSB to court in what was heralded as China’s first name-rights lawsuit. The district court in Yingtan, Jiangxi Province, ruled in Zhao’s favor, but the PSB appealed. While the appeal was pending the case settled, Zhao agreeing to change his name and the PSB agreeing to waive the paperwork fee.

The legal provision at issue in the case was issue in the case was Article 4 of the PRC Citizens’ ID Law (身份证法), adopted by the National People’s Congress in 2003. It states that standard Chinese characters and numerals and symbols conforming to national standards shall be used in filling out a national ID card.  Article 3 of the regulations (pre-dating the law) further specifies that the name “shall be registered in the standard language used throughout the country.” Zhao argued that the letter C is part of Hanyu Pinyin, the PRC’s official Romanization system for Mandarin Chinese, while the PSB argued that C is a foreign language letter.

If Zhao can use one foreign letter in his name, the government’s concern is that other parents may give their children English names, potentially eroding Chinese language and culture.

The Zhao C case is relevant to U.S. immigration law because China’s policy on names determines what name will be used on an immigrant visa. The visa must follow the name in the Chinese passport (9 FAM 42.73 PN1.2-1), which in turn is based on the name in the national ID.

PRC clients applying for immigrant visas as the spouse or child of a U.S. citizen sometimes ask our firm if they can use the citizen’s western surname on their immigrant visas. The answer is no, since the western surname can’t be used in a PRC national ID or passport.

The solution, then, is to change one’s name after entering the U.S. This could be accomplished by (a) filing for a name change in state court, (b) re-marrying in the U.S., since every state will allow a wife to use her husband’s surname, or (c) changing names at the time of naturalization.

USCIS Increases Scrutiny on Small Companies Filing H-1B Petitions

I previously reported on a September 2008 USCIS report, entitled H-1B Benefit Fraud & Compliance Assessment, finding that small companies are more likely to violate H-1B visa rules. USCIS apparently now has begun making procedural changes consistent with the report.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association believes that USCIS has in some cases made overly broad requests for evidence from H-1B petitioners, seeking for example: “extremely detailed employer financial information; requests for proof of existence of an employer’s place of business (copies of leases, verification of proper use by zoning or planning authorities, letters from landlords, etc.); comprehensive lists of all employees, or all nonimmigrant employees, along with supporting payroll and tax information; requests for job descriptions in extreme detail; an explanation of the specialty nature of the occupation for which the nonimmigrant worker’s services are sought (especially the obvious); requests for prospective itineraries; copies of contracts where the employee will be working on a project for a third party….”

Of course USCIS should crack down on fraud wherever it is found. However, it seems to me that it is wrongheaded to crack down on small businesses. For H-1B visas the main problem is that the rules are hyper technical. They consist of hundreds of pages of regulations from USCIS, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the U.S. Department of State. In my opinion, the best way to reduce technical violations is to simplify the bewildering maze of rules.

With our economy in a slump, H-1B visas are a good thing.  They’re good for companies, who can recruit the best talent wherever it can be found. They’re good for U.S. workers too because for each H-1B worker hired the employer pays a $750 or $1500 “ACWIA” fee to the federal government to be used for training U.S. workers so our country can compete better in the global economy.

Average Bonds at ICE Field Offices

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has released information about average bonds for noncitizens detained at ICE field offices. Los Angeles sets the lowest average bonds, while New York’s average is the highest. What the table doesn’t show is the odds of being detained in each office’s district. For example, according to anecdotal evidence, Los Angeles has a rate of detention.


Average Bonds at ICE OfficesFree Legal Forms

5 U.S. Ambassadors to China

Five former U.S. ambassadors to China appeared together in a program for the first time on December 9, 2008. The program featured ambassadors Winston Lord (1985-89), James Lilley (1989-91), J. Stapleton Roy (1991-95), James R. Sasser (1996-99), and Joseph Prueher (1999-2001). In an exchange moderated by National Committee president Stephen Orlins, the ambassadors candidly reflected on the challenges, excitement, crises and achievements of their tenures, and shared insights on the future of U.S.-China relations.

Winston Lord: As special assistant to the National Security Advisor, Winston Lord accompanied Henry Kissinger on his secret visit to China in 1971 and President Nixon on his historic opening in 1972, as well as subsequent trips by President Ford and Dr. Kissinger. From 1985 to 1989 he served as ambassador to Beijing under Presidents Reagan and Bush. From 1993-1997 he was Assistant Secretary of State in charge of all East Asian policy, including China, under President Clinton. Lord’s other key government assignments were in the State Department as the director of Policy Planning (1973-1977) and in the Defense and State Departments in the 1960’s. He currently serves as Chairman Emeritus of the International Rescue Committee, the largest non-sectarian organization that both helps refugees abroad and resettles them in the United States.

James Lilley: Lilley was born in Qingdao, China in 1928, where his father was working for Standard Oil. He remained in China until 1940. Lilley was in the CIA until 1975, serving in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Laos, Cambodia, Philippines, Thailand and Beijing and as the national intelligence officer for China (1975-78). He then changed careers to work for Hunt Oil (1978-80) and United Technologies (1979-80). He served on the National Security Council’s East Asia staff (1981-82) before becoming the director of the American Institute in Taiwan (1982-84). He worked for Otis Elevator (1984-85) and then became the deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia (1985-86).He was the U. S. ambassador to Korea (1986-89) and to China (1989-91), and assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs (1991-93). From 1993 to 2006, he worked at the American Enterprise Institute, where he edited six books on the Chinese military. In 2004 he wrote China Hands, a reflection on his life and career.

J. Stapleton Roy: Roy retired from the Foreign Service in January 2001 after a career spanning 45 years wth the U.S. Department of State. A fluent Chinese speaker, Ambassador Roy spent much of his career in East Asia, where his assignments included Bangkok (twice), Hong Kong, Taipei, Beijing (twice), Singapore, and Jakarta. He also specialized in Soviet affairs and served in Moscow at the height of the Cold War. Mr. Roy rose to become a three-time ambassador, serving as the top U.S. envoy in Singapore (1984-86), the People’s Republic of China (1991-95), and Indonesia (1996-99). In 1996, he was promoted to the rank of Career Ambassador, the highest rank in the Foreign Service. Ambassador Roy’s final post with the State Department was as assistant secretary for Intelligence and Research. In September 2008, he joined the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States. He continues in his position as senior adviser to Kissinger Associates, Inc., which he joined in January 2001. Ambassador Roy was born in Nanjing, China of American missionary parents.

James R. Sasser: Sasser practiced law in Nashville until elected to the United States Senate in 1976, where he served for 18 years. Upon leaving the Senate he became a fellow at the Kennedy School at Harvard University, which ended with his appointment as ambassador to the People’s Republic of China in 1996. He served in that capacity for almost four years, playing a pivotal role in stabilizing Sino-American relations and traveling with President Jiang Zemin on his historic State visit to the United States in 1997. Sasser is currently a senior advisor to the FedEx Corporation and a senior counselor to APCO Worldwide in Washington, DC. He has served as a consultant to other U.S. corporation doing business in China, including the Ford Motor Company, the former Unocal Corporation and Brown-Forman Corporation.

Joseph Prueher: Prueher is a consulting professor at Stanford University’s Institute of International Studies and senior advisor on The Preventive Defense Project. He served as ambassador to the People’s Republic of China from 1999 to 2001 after completing thirty-five years in the United States navy. His last command was Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command. Prior to that, he served as commandant at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.

Who Are the U.S. Visa Officers?

Eilene Zimmerman, Hiring Window Open at the Foreign Service, New York Times (Dec. 20, 2008):

Applying for a job with the State Department involves written and oral examinations. Those who pass the oral exam become conditional officers and receive a ranking score based on oral-exam performance and language skills. The higher the rank, the sooner they will be assigned.

Of the 12,000 to 15,000 people who register annually for the written exam, about 450 officers are hired, said Frank J. Coulter, management officer with the Foreign Service and a member of the State Department’s board of examiners….

New Foreign Service officers at the State Department choose one of five career tracks: consular affairs, economic affairs, management affairs, political affairs or public diplomacy. No matter the track, all entry-level officers spend their first several years working in a consulate, interviewing applicants for United States visas and working with American citizens who need their help.

The State Department also hires Foreign Service specialists, who provide technical, security and administrative support overseas or in Washington. Specialists must pass an oral assessment but not a written exam, and start in a specialty like medicine, information technology or law enforcement, Mr. Coulter said. All newly hired officers and specialists are trained at the Foreign Service Institute in Washington.

Each of the first two postings overseas last two years; after that, it is generally a three-year posting in each country. One-year hardship postings–in a region too dangerous to allow an officer’s spouse and children to accompany him or her–are required at least twice in the course of a career. After two assignments, Foreign Service personnel can bid on postings  requesting particular countries or Washington but everyone is expected to serve in a variety of assignments.

Immigrant Widows Left in Limbo

Everybody loves a love story – everybody it seems, except the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. In our post-9/11 world, immigration has become increasingly tough on, of all groups, widows.

A foreigner who marries a U.S. citizen is entitled to become a U.S. resident. But as CBS’ 60 Minutes reports, USCIS wants to deport several hundred widows who had been married to American citizens when the Americans died.

USCIS claims basically that a widow is not a wife, and that if the widow did not complete the process to become a U.S. resident while her husband was alive, she cannot remain in the country. This is the subject of ongoing litigation.