Interviewing an E2 visa consular officer: Anna Kerner Anderson
Angie Rupert: Hi everybody! it’s Angie Rupert from Rupert Law Group. We handle almost exclusively E2 visas so no matter what treaty country you’re from or where you want to be we can help.
Today we are joined by Anna Kerner Andersson of Kerner Anderson, her own law firm. Hi Anna!
Anna Kerner Andersson: Hi there.
Angie Rupert: Great to speak with you. So, Anna has a very interesting background that I know everybody’s going to want to know a little bit about. She worked at the embassy in London (the U.S. embassy in London) and also the consulate in Ciudad Juarez in Mexico handling E2 visas, is that correct Anna?
Anna Kerner Andersson: That’s correct.
Angie Rupert: She was the person that got to tell everybody “Congratulations you got your E2 visa!” right?… For most people. So, Anna and I are going to talk a little bit about some of the common questions we both get, because Anna is also an immigration attorney and, about the interview; how it goes.
As an immigration attorney I can tell you the experience of my other clients, but Anna can give you an extra special kind of “behind the scenes” view of what it is that the consular officers are looking for, the types of things they want to see, red flags in cases, things that they think are great and on and on right Anna?
Anna Kerner Andersson: Yes, yes, I can.
Angie Rupert: Let’s start with that. When someone comes to an interview at a consulate and particularly with E2´s but, any interview really. What are the top two or three things that they can do that sets that interview on a good path?
Anna Kerner Andersson: Yeah, I like to always tell people that that first question the officer asks usually it’s pretty big and it’s vague for a reason. They ask a pretty broad question and that’s your opportunity to kind of set the scene for the rest of the interview. And that’s particularly true for E2 visas in my experience, because every consulate in every embassy varies in the amount of time that they give the E2 visa officer to look at the application. So, typically in most places you’ll have submitted a large amount of documents ahead of time before the interview.
However, you’re not sure when you get to the interview if the officers have looked at any of those documents, so the interview is very important from that perspective. You’re educating the officer about what was in that packet and you’re really setting the scene for the rest of the interview. And typically these interviews are pretty short. So, in my opinion that first question, that’s pretty broad like, “what are you going to do in the United States?” or, “what’s the business that you’re investing in the United States?” That’s your opportunity to kind of put the whole case in a nutshell or in a 30-second response. That’s really the most important part of the interview, that first question, because that sets the scene for the rest of the interview really.
Angie Rupert: Yes. And Anna you touched on something that’s very interesting. When I first started doing immigration law what was shocking to me and it’s shocking to many of my clients, is that the officer many times has not seen anything or has only seen a couple of documents or is only going off the notes of someone else who went through it. Is that accurate?
Anna Kerner Andersson: Yes, exactly. So, the processing varies greatly depending on what embassy you’re applying in. So, for example when I was in London we had a whole E2 visa unit that would go through every E2 visa application and then basically give us kind of a brief of whether or not they thought the person qualified and what they thought we should ask and what documents they thought maybe we’re missing in that initial application, right? That was a very different experience than what I had in Mexico.
In Mexico we were given the cases one or two hours before the interview and with nothing written on them. Nothing had been reviewed on them and we just got the materials along with no prior screening at all. So, yeah, I mean in those cases that there’s going to be an officer, if you only have that two hours… When you’re doing that, you’re expected to do other interviews during that time frame, right? So, you’re just kind of fitting in that E2 case through with the rest of your caseload and typically the E2 visa officer is not really a business trained person.
I mean, when you get hired into the foreign service, you’re called a generalist. That means that you’re supposed to kind of know a little bit about everything but not a whole lot about anything. So basically, the people who are E2 visa officers, they’ll select them because maybe they had a business background; but typically they don’t have a business background. So if you don’t have a business background, you want to make sure that the information about your business it’s very digestible for the officer so the officer can understand it in layman’s terms. They would look at the business plan and potentially the cover letter from the attorney, because those are going to be kind of the two things that spell out what the officer needs to know about the case typically.
Angie Rupert: Yeah, so, that’s interesting too. I mean, and I think that you are, maybe kind of unusual in the fact that you were an attorney, right? I mean, most of the consular officers are not attorneys…
Anna Kerner Andersson: That’s correct, yeah. In Mexico none of the other E2 visa officers were attorneys. In London my colleague, there was only two of us in London, and he was also an attorney, but that’s not typical.
Angie Rupert: Right, and that’s something else that I think is kind of a surprise to a lot of clients and that is these are not attorneys nor are they necessarily… I mean, they’re certainly not accountants going through P&L’s and that type of thing. I think certainly they glance but they don’t… you know, maybe there’s not a lot of training on that.
That actually brings me to my next question, another thing that was a little bit surprising to me was that there are many places – I’ve learned this through client experience but also through a presentation that I went through once by another council officers – that, if you go to a place… (now London would not be one of these places, Ciudad Juarez as well like Toronto) But there are a variety of places that do lots and lots of E2´s but, there are some places that do very few E2´s: either non-treaty countries or treaty countries that are just not as common. For example, I had this situation in Bangladesh, that the officers really have no training at all regarding these visas.
Anna Kerner Andersson: Yeah, that’s correct. if it’s a location where they don’t have very many E2 visas they are not going to have a specific dedicated officer for E2 visas and then you’re dealing with, like I always say, educating the officer because that officer is going to have seen multiple B1-B2’s, probably student visas all day long and then they get to your case and they’re going to be probably asking you questions that aren’t 100% relevant to the visa class just because you’re the first one, might be the first case that they’ve ever seen in the E2 visa class right?
So, sometimes you do have to educate the officer and what the requirements are so, if you start getting questions that are really bizarre that you think “what does that have to do with my business” that’s why. Because, you might get an officer that has never seen an E2 visa before and then that’s why you get some of those bizarre questions.
Angie Rupert: Crazy, yeah! That was definitely an experience of one of my clients in Bangladesh, luckily approved and it all went well in the scheme of things. But yeah, it was pretty obvious based on what he told me how the interview went that they just didn’t have a ton of experience with it.
Let’s start here, what are the most common questions that you as a consular officer would ask just in a kind of what I’ll call a “vanilla E2,” right? Kind of a brand-new business, they seem to kind of have most of their documentation together in a pretty orderly fashion… that kind of thing. What would you just generally ask for something like that?
Anna Kerner Andersson: Well, we were always trained to kind of evaluate how the business was going to impact the U.S. economy, right? It’s the U.S. government that’s adjudicating the visa so, more than you know, kind of about you in the business, it’s more about what is the impact to the U.S. because I’m the U.S. government issuing the visa.
I always tell people that we were told to look at the number of employees that you were going to have in your five-year business plan, what your revenues were going to be, so numbers are really important. Numbers were definitely questions that we were told to ask specifically. Again go back to the fact that the officer may not have a business background, the number of employees is something officer can digest and understand. If you’re going from five employees to 20 employees by year five, that’s impressive to an officer. As long as you can articulate why you made those projections, right? I mean, everything has to make sense to the officer too but, typically those were kind of the main questions.
What is the business? How (if it’s in a competitive industry that has a lot of competition), are you going to be successful? If I give you a five-year visa, what can you tell me to make me convinced that the business is going to be around in five year’s time? So, revenues, employees, numbers are pretty important for officers. They like to be able to document those things in their notes.
Typically at the end of the day the officer has to justify why they made the decision they made. A supervisor goes through 10 to 20% of their adjudications, and if the notes don’t justify why the decision was made, they’ll get called into the office to justify decision. So, I always tell my clients, on this side you want to give the officer those notes that they can put in their case so that it makes it easy for them to approve it because they have an easy justification. So, numbers are important, those projections are important and also the data that’s used to come up with those projections like, if you just throw out there like “yeah, of course we’re going to grow, you know. We’re going into a really good area. We have a really good business model. We’re going to grow.” That’s not enough for the officer. Again, it is really an administrative process, right? But, that’s not enough data for the officer to hang their hat on. “Well that sounds like something I can use to justify their approval.” So, numbers are super important.
Do not miss the rest of this interview in the next post.
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