I wake up a little before seven. Lately it's been nice because the sun is already shining. The Embassy is about a five minute walk from my place, and I try to get there around eight o'clock. That gives me some time to check e-mail and get my workstation set up before the day starts. If one of my colleagues hasn't already done it, I print the list of the day's visa applicants and take it out to the security guards so they can get into the building. The first appointments are at 8:15, which begins a solid four or five hours of interviewing. We have about 50 applicants a day, and most interviews last less than five minutes, with a few complicated cases taking much longer.
After lunch, there might be a couple more interviews for people who came unprepared in the morning and had to return with more documents, but for the most part it is other types of work. It's very self-directed, which I think is a cool thing about my boss's management style: as long as he sees that everything is getting done, he doesn't worry about what time I spend on what tasks. Answering e-mails from the public is always an option, since we get between ten and thirty a day. Most are routine and the answer can be copied and pasted right from our Web site, but there are always people with odd situations that need a little more research to find the appropriate regulation to cite or advice to give. Aside from e-mails, I spend some of the afternoon on long-term projects, such as the semiannual Consular Fraud Report which I'm working on now, or figuring out why the software program still thinks there are some open cases from 2002, which I wrapped up recently. The other main activity in the afternoons is processing pending visa applications: sometimes an application is fine except for a missing document or piece of information, and the applicant sends it along later, so we can take the case from the file and approve the visa; in other cases, a particular applicant or type of visa requires us to do additional processing and clearance procedures. For example, if an applicant was convicted of embezzlement twenty years ago, she would be ineligible for a visa; but if she otherwise qualifies for the visa and is not likely to engage in any criminal behavior in the US, then we can request a waiver of her ineligibility, which has to be approved by the Department of Homeland Security. So DHS eventually (sometimes within a couple days, sometimes weeks later, depending on how complicated and serious the ineligibility is) lets us know if the waiver is approved, and we take the case out of the file and issue the visa if it was approved; otherwise we return the applicant's passport without a visa. There are also cases where we just don't know what the regulations are (or how to interpret them) for very unusual situations, and we appeal to the experts in Washington.
The variety keeps things pretty interesting, and five o'clock usually comes along pretty quickly. In my last private-sector job, I was impressed with the workplace for keeping my interest -- in all the time I worked there, I never dreaded going in to work or stopped enjoying what I was doing. Consular work in Denmark is even more like that. I try to wrap things up for the day by five-ish, which is usually possible because we're pretty good at keeping on top of the things that need to be done right away, and whatever else I'm dealing with can mostly be left for tomorrow. Sometimes I even manage to clear my desk, leaving myself with a fresh start the next day. I go home each evening knowing that I put in a good day's work, made a positive impact on several people's lives, and helped to safeguard the borders of the USA.
There must be a place somewhere on the chain of command where there is a perfect balance. As you rise, you get more exciting work and higher prestige, but the stress and responsibility also increase. If you could work out the conversion rate and graph the two functions on the same field, adjusting them by a personal-preference constant that would be different for each individual, then you could find out where that perfect balance is. I wonder if I'm already there.