I don't really think anything I have done on this issue has been particularly impactful due to not understanding the system well enough, and due to "advocacy from Americans" being less of a limiting factor than "political capital within the embassy". Still optimistic overall about political advocacy, but not as low-hanging fruit as I hoped.
Epistemic status: Uncertain. I may be too optimistic about bureaucratic responsiveness to public opinion. Currently testing
I (American) am bothering the US Embassy in Nairobi Kenya to increase their staffing level so they can increase the number of tourist visas they provide to Kenyans. I think it's fairly likely that other people from rich countries can also pester their own embassies on similar issues for a decent chance of a pretty high reward.
Embassies have some discretion in how they implement visa policies (e.g., they decide how to staff interviews), and can put in place barriers to travel (e.g., "we don't have enough interview slots, so you don't get a tourist visa and can't visit our country").
If you believe
- that movement between countries is generally good,
- that there are significant bureaucratic barriers to this movement,
- and that the bureaucratic mechanisms of the embassies of these rich countries are somewhat susceptible to public opinion,
then this could be a moderate-effort-moderate-impact cause area to spend some time on.
Something that I think makes this particularly tractable is that no policy change is needed. The embassy just needs to hire or staff more people. I imagine the main reason this is a problem in Kenya is that the embassy has basically zero accountability to people applying for visas, and not that many US citizens care about this.
It seems like an area where a few people’s voices could have an outsized impact.
I personally have not seen any traction yet, but have started to ramp up my efforts in the past few days. I will try to update this post with traction or lack thereof.
Would be curious to hear if others have experiences with similar issues, and definitely if anyone has any helpful contacts/advice re US Embassy Nairobi specifically.
Currently you have to wait over a year to get the required interview
Salient example: I know at least 2 Kenyans who wanted to go to EAG Boston or EAG London and could not go because of inability to get visas
Anecdotally, the embassy makes net profit from visa interviews, so it shouldn't be financially difficult
More generally, "pestering bureaucrats to improve processes" might be a good cause area. My impression is this is how a decent amount of political change happens: An interest groups finds a particular policy or policy interpretation that few people have really thought or care about, and pester the people responsible until it changes. I think this is a very unoriginal thought, but it's also not one I hear voiced in the context of EA super often relative to groups working in eg progress studies, environmental activism, criminal justice reform
Wrote a blog post with more detail on why this is an issue. Tweeted it at the embassy - no response. Have an email thread with the embassy that basically confirmed my suspicion that there is no good reason for this lack of interview slots. Emailed senators and a cold email to someone on the National Security Council - no responses. Have started reaching out to news outlets.