25 years ago, the State Department recognized how the visa consul and immigration counselor can work together in the visa application process


Department of State Cable 99 State 21138 was issued twenty-five years ago this month. Titled “Working Constructively with Immigration Lawyers,” the cable highlights the importance of the working relationship between consular officers and immigration lawyers to the visa application process. The guiding light behind 99 State 21138 was the late Stephen K. Fischel, who, throughout three decades of service to the department, did more than anyone to promote the consul-attorney relationship.

To mark this anniversary, we present some of the pearls of political wisdom provided by 99 State 21138:

  • The relationship between consular officers and immigration lawyers can be productive. Consular officers can learn a lot from a conscientious lawyer, and vice versa.
  • Consular officers should not pass judgment on applicants who choose to retain the services of a lawyer. Some people are more comfortable working with an attorney, even if the visa file appears simple or straightforward to the consular officer.
  • It is as common for visa applicants to misrepresent facts to consular officials as it is for clients to misrepresent facts or withhold information from their own lawyers.
  • An important service that lawyers provide to their clients is ensuring that forms are completed correctly and the necessary supporting documents are presented at the time of the interview.
  • While consular section policy generally prohibits lawyers from participating in visa interviews, individual officers may still invite a lawyer to a specific interview to answer questions that the applicant is unable to answer, for example in Complex “E” visa cases where the presence of a lawyer would clearly help the consular official understand the case.
  • Attorneys are paid to represent their clients to the best of their abilities and will persist in pursuing their cases. Ignoring them won’t make them go away. After lawyers repeatedly fail to reach a consular section, they turn to the visa office, and then we have to pester you for answers.
  • Publications that establish clear and consistent procedures for responding to attorney requests save time and resources in the long run. As with congressional correspondence, the more complete the explanation of a denial or 221(g) decision, the more helpful you will be.
  • The best immigration lawyers know the law very well. They know the regulations. If a lawyer insists that something can be done for his client based on his interpretation of the law, ask for a subpoena. Let the lawyer work for you on behalf of the clients.

The twenty-fifth anniversary of 99 State 21138 gives us pause to reflect on the current state of the working relationship between consular officers and immigration attorneys. This anniversary is also an opportunity to think fondly of Stephen Fischel, a remarkable human being and a true friend to consular officers and immigration lawyers.

(This article is adapted from an email shared on several AILA mailing lists with permission of the author.)

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