Deputy Counsel US Embassy in Islamabad

Peter Ganser, newly appointed Deputy Counsel General of the US Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan met with the Northern Neck Rotary Club and shared insight regarding the issuance of visas to people wishing to enter the United States.  Ganser is visiting his home in the area in transit from his last post in Lilogwe, Malawi.  Prior posts include Brazilia, Brazil; Baghdad, Iraq; and the US Embassy to the Holy See, Vatican City.

Ganser was appointed to the Foreigh Service in 2002 following  a career in the US Coast Guard.

The second paragraph of a letter from the President of the United States to newly appointed Ambassadors of the United States is the charge to look after US citizens in a foreign country, said Ganser. 

The job of his office is to issue visas to those wishing to enter the United States and interacting with the situation of the person wishing the visa.   Two agencies are responsible Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security.  Ganser told the club a visa in not an entry permit to the US, it is a permit for a person to present himself or herself to a customs officer at a port of entry for admission to the country.  It is ultimately Homeland Security that grants admission to enter the country.

There are two types of visas, an Immigrant Visa for persons wishing to come to the US and live here for ever.  More common is an non-immigrant visa for those who wish to enter for a temporary visit, according to Ganser.  This is a tough job as an officer must make a decision in a foreign country as to whether a person should be allowed to enter the country and has a sufficient cause to return home.

Ganser said that the one thought that he wanted to leave was that people want despirately.........despirately to come to this country.  They see the US as the golden land.  Individuals will do almost anything to get permission to come to the US.  He said he told his officers to not to get upset when a person lies to them in the intreview process.  Ninety-nine percent want to come here for a better life and will resort to any kind of lie and fraud to do so and are not a threat to the country. 

Since 9-11 great stides have been made in detecting fraud and having information to make good decisions.  In the year 2008 Ganser said that some 6.6 million non-immigrant visas were issued and 500,000 immigrant visas. 

Measures such as 10 finger fingerprints are taken at the time of application.  These prints are run through various databases and by the time of the interview, the officer will know if this is a person that has had difficulty with the law.  Face recognition technology is also being used to compare to a variety of sources.  Reasonably good quality photos can be scanned into the system and much can be learned about the person and his background said Ganser.  At times there are almost too many "hits" due to the large amount of data available. 

Officers are also trained to read body language to observe when a person is lying to the officer during the interview process.  A new online application process is coming on line to permit security checks long before the person comes in for the interview. 

One of the greatest problems of illegal immigrants today is "over stays", those who come here on a non-immigrant visa and just stay.  Of the estimated 14 million illegals in this country, 6 million did not cross one of our boarders illegally they came through a port of entry.  We do not have a reliable exit system in place to know when a person leaves, according to Ganser.  When a person enters, finger prints are scanned and compared to the visa database but when a person leaves the person is suppose to hand a card called an I-94 to the airline.  About 5% of the cards are not returned. 

People leave home with full intent to return but when they get here they look around and see just how great things are here and think about how things are at home,  they just stay.  Ganser said that younger officers have a more difficult time saying no but an applicant must be approached with the concept that they cannot be granted a visa and make a case to change that conclusion.  Ganser told the club that a person must present a case that they have good reason to return home in order to be granted a visa.  When a visa is denied a person must be told in such a way that the US establishes good will with that person as this may be the only official contact that person has with the United States.