Wellyopolis

January 17, 2006

"NO" would be a good answer

As the price to pay for the chance to live in the United States, filling out the three application forms for a non-immigrant visa is a small one.

I'll try to make this amusing for my mostly American readership, who probably don't get the opportunity to see how their nation's border security works. If any of my sponsors happen upon this, really, I love being here and appreciate it immensely. Some of the forms are just a little bemusing.

Back in those innocent days before September 11, 2001 there was just one form to fill out, the DS-156. As far as I can tell they haven't revised this form, so you still get this gem of a question:
"Do you seek to enter the United States to engage in export control violations, subversive or terrorist activities, or any other unlawful purpose? Are you a member or representative of a terrorist organization as currently designated by the U.S. Secretary of State? Have you ever participated in persecutions directed by the Nazi government of Germany; or have you ever participated in genocide?"

Bad stuff. Not to defend the Nazis, but it's interesting how they get identified and all the other twentieth century genocides are lumped together. There's also questions about having "been a prostitute or procurer for prostitutes?" among others, and then they tell you "While a YES answer does not automatically signify ineligibility for a visa, if you answered YES you may be required to personally appear before a consular officer." (emphasis added)

May be required? I'm sure you're glad to know that admitted terrorists may be required to be interviewed by a consular officer! Actually, even if you answer "NO" to all these questions you still have to show up. I imagine this makes the interview a little shorter (never having answered "Yes" to any of them).

After September 11, 2001 they added two new forms, the DS-157 and DS-158. It really is slightly interesting that the numbers of the forms are sequential. In other parts of the American government (to say nothing of other, similarly disorganized governments) it seems to be an empirical rule that related forms and publications are not given identifying numbers anywhere near each other. Take a look at the IRS website if you doubt me. So good on the Department of Homeland Security for a little bit of easy-to-understand form-numbering!

The DS-157 is funny: you don't have to sign it. Not sure what that means. Do you not really have to give a true answer? I still do, honest person that I am. Most of the questions are pretty standard, name, family, places you've been, why you're going to the United States, and then these.

13. List all Professional, Social and Charitable Organizations to Which You Belong (Belonged) or Contribute (Contributed) or with Which You Work (Have Worked).
14. Do You Have Any Specialized Skills or Training, Including Firearms, Explosives, Nuclear, Biological, or Chemical Experience? If YES, please explain.
15. Have You Ever Performed Military Service? If Yes, Give Name of Country, Branch of Service, Rank/Position, Military Specialty, and Dates of Service.
16. Have You Ever Been in an Armed Conflict, Either as a Participant or Victim?

I always get a little bit of a laugh out of being able to put down such subversive groups as the Economic History Association, the American Historical Association, and Wellington Scottish Athletics Club as potentially subversive organizations I belong to. Thankfully I don't have to explain that, and it makes me extra glad I don't have any specialized skills outside of social science. Probit regression is not yet directly applicable to terrorist activity ... Though someone is probably working on it somewhere.

Somewhere along the line the formatting guide for these forms must have included the instructions that "All Questions be Asked in Mostly Title Case Sentences. Except when they are not for reasons that are hard to work out." And they also lost the Adobe Acrobat manual somewhere along the way too, because the DS-158 has fields where the text expands or contracts to fit the whole box. Like so. It looks odd. The other forms don't work like that.

Whether all this will keep out potential terrorists, I don't know ...

Posted by robe0419 at January 17, 2006 3:30 PM
Comments

I wasn't so much bemused by the forms (I've never seen a government form anywhere that makes sense) as the process. I had probably the most straightforward green card application in the history of green cards (married to a US citizen for 15 years at the time, employed by a US company that was going to transfer my job to US, already owned a house in the US and was a natural born citizen of one of the closest US allies) and yet the process took four months during which time I made six visits to the embassy. In all that I spent about 3.5 minutes in the interview. The rest was just a classic paper chase. They would only ever tell you the next document required, but not the one after that so you could collect them all at once and make a single visit.

The thought did cross my mind at the time, how is this a wise use of scarce resources when the US is trying to keep terrorists out plus when you have a couple million people illegally crossing the border from Mexico every year, illegal immigration from Australia is a tenth order problem...

Posted by: Dan Hill at January 17, 2006 6:38 PM