Administrative Burdens: Iraqi Translator Visa

March 31, 2020 · 5 minutes read

The following is action memo was written for my Public Management class at Georgetown University during the Spring of 2020 with Professor Donlad Moynihan relating to administrative burdens within the context of Untied States immigration services.

Action Memo

“Persons of special humanitarian concern who can establish persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion may be considered for admission to the United States as refugees[1].” Translators in Iraq have faced threats to their own and their family member’s lives, alongside abductions and even murders of them or their loved ones by insurgent groups that do not like the United States. But, only 2 visas were issued to former interpreters in 2018[2]. There has been a huge decline in recent years in the number of visas issued to former Iraqi interpreters. This decline may be attributed to the Trump administration’s attitude toward immigration and refugees. But, the process to apply for refuge is also very slow. This was always a problem and can be highlighted from one of the examples from Kirk Johnson’s book[3].

On 28th June 2011, an Iraqi forklift operator, Omar, who worked with the US Army through a private company in Iraq since 2005, sent an e-mail to the International Organization for Migration (IMO) fearing for his life and requesting an application to seek refuge in the United States for him and his family[4]. In this email, he attached various documents that had details of employment with the US in Iraq alongside references to different supervisors and US army officials. In October 2011 the IOM informs him that his process is pending verification of employment with the US government in Iraq. In February 2012, they again asked him to provide a reference to an HR supervisor who could verify his employment relationship with the US government in Iraq. This was 8 months after a man applied to seek asylum in the United States, with the relevant documents that contained the said requested information. On April 9, 2012, they informed Omar that they had received his POC. “Please understand that the process is lengthy and might need a long time,” is what Omar received in an email on April 17, 2012, from the IOM and that his application was still waiting on processing for employment verification[5]. On May 22, the IOM replied saying they were unable to verify his employment. This leads to a lot of questions. First, why were they unable to verify his employment when the HR supervisor replied to them in an email stating his contribution to Parsons while in Iraq? Moreover, they had 4 different phone numbers, they had an army supervisor’s email and they still said they did not have a verified official email. He also clearly expressed his life was in grave danger and attached a letter he received from an extremist group. Was that not enough to express the time-sensitive nature of this application? All this creates an accountability issue within the organization and the lack of substantive action thereof. On June 17, 2012, the IOM received an email from the forklift operator’s brother in law suggesting that he was dead. In July 2012, more than a year after the first email that was sent by Omar, the IOM again requested for a supervisor contact for employment verification from Omar’s wife. Omar strongly urged them to act swiftly since his life was in constant danger. But, he died. The process was also reset.

The red-tape bureaucracy in this organization was not allowing his application to go at a further stage. This may primarily be attributed to a lack of clear communication between Omar and the person(s) handling his application. I believe that multiple people may be responsible for handling his application and that may have been a reason for confusion. This can be fixed within the organization through the means of structural changes and introducing accountability of work[6]. This would allow the fire alarm oversight[7] to work as private actors may step in to speed up the process that the public service officials are taking a long time to complete, such as Kirk. The public service officials serving in the immigration services are more worried about the paperwork, rather than the life of the individual, that Kirk Johnson stresses upon, highlighting a stark contrast between cultural differences between public service officials in the military and immigration services. Their values differ when it comes to assessing the life of a human, and their ethics allow them to act in a certain way they choose to. The change in structure though may strive to bring a difference in the culture of the organization[8]. All in all, the decision can only be made by policy-makers at Washington and other high-level officials. The craft of these officials can help Iraqi translators such as Omar. But then again, the best practices model followed by most high-level bureaucrats who deal with immigration and refuge services, in my opinion, strives toward national security more, with rationality assigned to their behavior[9]. The Bush administration did not have any agreed-upon strategic view for Iraq[10], the same can be said with the Trump administration, and so actual structural changes may be hard.


[1] RSCMENA, J. (n.d.). IOM Jordan: RSCMENA Refugee Information Website: Welcome to the RSCMENA Refugee Information Website. Retrieved from

[2] Luce, D. D. (2019, August 23). Only 2 Iraqi translators who worked with U.S. troops got U.S. visas last year. Retrieved from

[3] Johnson, K. W. (2014). To be a friend is fatal: the fight to save the Iraqis America left behind. New York: Scribner.

[4] June 28, 2013. (n.d.). Emails From a Dead Man. Retrieved from

[5] Ibid.

[6] Carolyn J Hill and Laurence E Lynn, Public Management: Thinking and Acting in Three Dimensions, 2015.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] John J. Sheehan, “Why I Declined to Serve,” Washington Post, April 16, 2007, Sec. A.