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CA-LNA: program draws praise, cuts visa backlog.

Four years ago, the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) and the Bureau of Human Resources launched a pilot program to hire a new class of consular officers, a group of Limited Non-Career Appointees (LNAs), to staff consular positions in nations with high demand for U.S. visas, particularly Brazil and China. Historically, the Department had only hired LNAs individually to fill specific, specialized jobs. But rapidly growing visa workloads prompted CA to hire "Consular Adjudicator LNAs" as a class, mirroring FSI's A100 model for bringing officers into the Foreign Service.

In early 2012, the inaugural class of consular adjudicators received assignments to Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai, as well as posts in Brazil, namely, Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Positive feedback from these posts encouraged CA to expand the program to include Spanish-speaking countries in 2013.

While the new CA-LNA consular officers look a lot like their FSO counterparts in terms of educational background, job experience and goals, they are distinguished by the fact that they must, before being hired, be fluent in the language of the place of assignment.

Consular adjudicators are a hybrid of Foreign Service specialists and generalists. They hold the same consular commission and adjudicatory responsibilities as entry-level FS generalists, but like specialists they begin the employment process through USAJobs. gov. Moreover, after initial application screening, they take the FS oral assessment, which incorporates such additional specialist elements as online tests for judgment, job knowledge, English expression and familiarity with the LNA program.

Unlike career Foreign Service employees, consular adjudicators are not evaluated for their potential to advance through the ranks, since the FAM limits their appointments to five years, renewable annually after an initial term of 27 months.

Consular adjudicators must be FSI language-qualified before they can receive an offer of employment. This means they must score 3/3 in Portuguese or Spanish, and at least 2/1 in Mandarin Chinese. Candidates are language-tested twice--first by telephone, then with a full FSI language exam administered after the oral assessment. After obtaining medical, security and suitability clearances, they receive the standard 31-day ConGen training and a brief orientation to assimilate into the Foreign Service.

To date, CA has hired 83 consular adjudicators on LNAs, and 55 are assigned overseas. To meet ever-growing visa and passport demand, CA intends to hire more than 100 consular adjudicators on LNAs over the coming year.

The program has also won praise from CA leadership. CA Deputy Assistant Secretary Edward Ramotowski sees the position as indispensable and said that, "without their help, the Department of State would not have been able to reach (and exceed) the presidential executive order goals of reducing visa appointment wait times worldwide and increasing visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40 percent."

Don Jacobson, minister counselor for consular affairs at Mission Mexico, has worked with CA-LNAs in Mexico and Brazil and said he's "been really impressed with the quality of people being hired and how quickly they get up to speed."

Overseas, CA-LNAs have the same responsibilities and rotations as other adjudicators and enjoy the same benefits, such as overseas housing, educational allowances and diplomatic privileges. But, because they speak the local language well, they are often more comfortable and effective in a broader range of duties. Christopher Pistulka, a former CA-LNA in Brasilia and now an FSO in Monterrey, Mexico, said his language skills and local knowledge were particularly useful in the fraud interviews he conducted as a fraud prevention manager. "I was able to conduct the interviews myself if necessary instead of relying solely upon my LES investigator," he noted.

Adjudicating visas at high-volume posts is formidable work and many appointees are ready to move on after five years, using their new-found knowledge and professional skills in related fields. I think five years is long enough," said Breana Limina, who recently started at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. "I probably would not continue longer." However, Hare O'Donnell, who is also serving in Beijing and is on the hiring register to continue as a financial management specialist, said the five-year limit is counterintuitive. "I think CA-LNAs should be allowed to stay as long as there is a need for adjudicators with excellent language skills," she observed.

Most CA-LNAs do find their time as an appointee deepening their interest in a Foreign Service career, and, though it's not a "back door" into the Foreign Service, LNAs are encouraged to take the Foreign Service exam.

Jannick Taboada, a CA-LNA in Guadalajara, who will head to Santo Domingo next year, said the CA-LNA program lets those with an interest in the Foreign Service learn the intricacies of it in a more relaxed manner. "For those of us that want to ... eventually become standard FSOs, we will have had nearly eight years of consular experience before joining the mid-level ranks," she said.

Alejandro Gonzalez, who is currently serving in Colombia and who will go to Guayaquil, Ecuador, next year, was put on the FSO register at the same time he received the CA-LNA offer and said, "I thought the CA-LNA [position] would be a good way to try out the Foreign Service and be assured of first and second tours in Spanish-speaking countries, which would make it easier for my Colombian wife to transition to the life of an FSO spouse."

All in all, CA-LNAs seem to agree that the position is a good perch from which to explore Foreign Service career possibilities, while CA finds a valuable pool of highly motivated and skilled entry-level consular employees.

By Christa Byker, consular adjudicator, U.S. Embassy Mexico City; and Damien Vrignon, consular adjudicator, U.S. Consulate Matamoros, Mexico, both serving on Limited Non-Career Appointments
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Author:Byker, Christa; Vrignon, Damien
Publication:State Magazine
Date:Jul 1, 2015
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