The Immigration Managers - The Department of State

By David North on October 5, 2009

The two units within the State Department that deal with migration management are the Bureau of Consular Affairs and its considerably smaller cousin, the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. Both are headed by Assistant Secretaries.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs is the agency that supervises the visa-issuers around the globe, generally junior Foreign Service Officers who make the decisions in the various embassies and consulate as to who is to receive -– and more rarely who is not to receive -– immigrant and non-immigrant visas. Most of those doing the Bureau's work are overseas.

The Bureau has virtually nothing to do with setting the number of immigrants arriving annually, as the numbers are largely determined by law. Since this is the case, and since most categories have more applicants than places, the denial of an applicant at Embassy A simply means that the place will be filed by another applicant, perhaps at Embassy B. On the other hand, the Bureau, potentially, has a great deal to say about how many "nonimmigrants" (visitors of various kinds) come to the U.S. annually, as most nonimmigrant flows are not subject to numerical limits, and a rejection of an individual applicant reduces the total inflow by one.

The Bureau also manages the passport-issuance function; this is usually a rubber-stamp operation, but occasionally the staff notices a fraudulent application by someone who is not a citizen claiming citizenship status.

The Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) is essentially a refugee-oriented operation; it provides guidance to higher officials within the Department as to how many refugees should be admitted each year, and from what parts of the globe. The actual selection of individual refugees is handled by overseas staffers of the Department of Homeland Security.

PRM also runs one of the few domestic contracting and grant-making operations of the State Department, funding, as it does, the U.S.-based voluntary agencies (volags) which help resettle refugees once they have arrived in the United States. In the latter role it works closely with the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services. (ORR does not play a role in determining how many refugees arrive in the States.)

Sometimes the Bureau of Consular Affairs is run by a political appointee, and at other times by a career Foreign Service Officer. Currently the Assistant Secretary is Ambassador Janice L. Jacobs, a career person sworn in on June 10, 2008. Like most Foreign Service Officers, Amb. Jacobs has spent most of her adult life overseas; her official biography lists nine nations where she has lived since joining the Foreign Service in 1980. Her last posting overseas was as Ambassador to Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, an assignment rarely sought by political appointees.

PRM, however, is headed by a political appointee with sustained experience in international organizations, including in the Office of the Secretary General of the U.N., and as the number two person in the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, entities that tend to encourage international migration. He is Eric P. Schwartz. A lawyer, Mr. Schwartz was once on the staff of the Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

NOTE: In an earlier blog I listed three migration management agencies within the Department of Homeland Security. Unfortunately I left out a fourth entity, that while it does not manage migration it records what happens in its management, a highly useful function. It is the Office of Immigration Statistics within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy. The head statistician is Michael D. Hoefer, a civil servant.

If you enjoyed this blog, check out others in this series by David North: