About the Author: Josh Glazeroff serves as the Visa Chief in the Consular Section at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.
In the consular business, the desire of a visa applicant to go to the United States can outweigh a lot of other things, including the truth. In some cases, those who seek our services go to great lengths to tell us anything about themselves. Unfortunately, in their true circumstances, they simply don’t qualify for a visa. As those who commit fraud try all sorts of gambits, we must do our best to find out what’s true and what’s not in order to uphold the law. Fraud investigation is not always the most glamorous part of the job of a consular officer, but it can be the most interesting, because when there is no other way to find out someone’s true situation, we take a trip out to visit them where they live.
A couple months back, in an effort to handle a number of unclear cases, we drove out into the agricultural areas of India’s Punjab province to the “villages.” These villages were actually not what I imagined at all – there were two-story houses, paved roads, and beautiful gurudwaras (Sikh temples). Our goal was to see the visa applicants in their own environment and, where possible, confront them directly to find out whether they were married, who their family members were, or whether they really did the job they claimed to do. Our very first stop was quite successful. We talked to some neighbors who confirmed definitively that the applicant we were investigating was married (although he claimed not to be), and, in fact, was home with his wife at that very moment. We drove over to the house, and the gentleman confessed within about 30 seconds – the element of surprise had really worked in our favor. He never thought we’d show up at his door. He then – to our surprise – offered to have his wife make us some tea!
This went on for the couple of days we were on the road. We would head into a village, ask some questions, visit the applicant, and ask some more questions. The Indians we met were infallibly polite and incredibly open to seeing us. In the most amazing visit, we found someone’s alleged “son” living in his real house with his real parents and were able to close a difficult case. When we left the house, we ran out through pouring rain, got into the car, made a right turn and … got stuck in the mud. So, picture it, absolutely no clean getaway on this one. We actually had to go back into the house and ask for assistance to get the car out of the mud. It’s pouring rain; we’ve accused these people of lying, attempted to drive off…and ended up needing their help.
No matter how intrusive the questions we asked those we met, they still offered us tea and a seat. It’s hard to imagine the equivalent in the U.S.: drive into town as a stranger, start asking questions from neighbors, then go right up to someone’s house and try to catch them in a lie – who would talk to us, let alone offer us a cold drink? It’s clear that as much as the visa weighs heavily in the consular world, Punjabi hospitality is an even greater force.