Category Archives: Consular Work

Consular Affairs to Get a New Boss — Michele Bond Nominated as Assistant Secretary

– Domani Spero

 

On September 9, President Obama announced his intent to nominate  Michele Thoren Bond as the next Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs. Ms. Bond has been the Acting A/S for the CA bureau since the retirement of Janice Jacobs this past spring.

Photo via Embassy Maseru/FB

Photo via Embassy Maseru/FB

The WH released the following brief bio:

Michele Thoren Bond is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the Department of State (DOS), a position she has held since December 2012.  Since April 2014, she has also served as Acting Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs at DOS.  From 2010 to 2012, she served as the Ambassador to the Kingdom of Lesotho and from 2007 to 2010, she served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Overseas Citizens Services at DOS.  From 2006 to 2007, Ms. Bond was the Director of the Office of Policy Coordination and Public Affairs in the Bureau of Consular Affairs at DOS.  From 2003 to 2006, she served as a Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and she was Managing Director for Overseas Citizens Services at DOS from 2001 to 2003.  From 1999 to 2001, Ms. Bond was the Director of Consular Training at the Foreign Service Institute.  Since joining the Foreign Service in 1977, she has also served in Guatemala City, Guatemala; Belgrade, Serbia; Prague, Czech Republic; and Moscow, Russia.

Ms. Bond received a B.A. from Wellesley College, an M.A. from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, and an M.A. from the National War College.

She is married to Clifford G. Bond, a retired Foreign Service Officer and former Ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Ms. Bond speaks Spanish, French, Serbian, and Swedish.  Her official state.gov bio also includes the following:

Ambassador Bond received a Presidential Award for Meritorious Service in 2013, and the Mary A. Ryan Award for Outstanding Public Service in 2010. She and her team at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow received a national Public Service award in 1998 for their initiatives in support of adoptions in Russia and seven other formerly Soviet nations.

Click here for an interview she did when she was ambassador to Lesotho.

Ms. Bond will still need to go through the Senate confirmation process  but we expect that she will get confirmed just as soon as the most deliberative body gets its interpersonal disharmony worked out.

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Tweet of the Day: U.S. Embassy Kosovo Welcomes First Consular Officer

– Domani Spero

 

 

 

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State Dept Updates Ukraine Travel Warning: Ongoing Violent Clashes in the Eastern Regions

– Domani Spero

 

On August 29, the State Department issued an updated Travel Warning on the risks of traveling to the eastern regions of Ukraine:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to eastern Ukraine due to ongoing violent clashes between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. In addition, Russian military forces continue to occupy the Crimean Peninsula and are present on the eastern border of Ukraine.This supersedes the Travel Warning for Ukraine dated August 1 to provide updated information on the security situation in southern and eastern Ukraine.

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer all travel to the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.  Russia-backed separatists continue to control areas in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.  These groups have established illegal checkpoints and have threatened, detained, or kidnapped individuals, including U.S. citizens, for hours or days.  The Ukrainian armed forces have launched an operation to reclaim these areas.  Violent clashes between the Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces have escalated over the past month and have resulted in hundreds of injuries and deaths.  Some of these clashes have included the use of armored vehicles, aircraft, and other military weapons including surface to air missiles, the use of which was responsible for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17.  Widespread disorder and looting has been confirmed in areas controlled by Russia-backed separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.  These Russian-supported groups have taken on a more strident anti-American tone, especially in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.  U.S. citizens who choose to remain in conflict areas should maintain a low profile and avoid large crowds and gatherings.

The Department of State also warns U.S. citizens to defer all travel to the Crimean Peninsula, and to exercise caution in the regions of Odesa, Kharkhiv, Zaporizhia and Kherson.  Russian forces have occupied the Crimean Peninsula in support of the Russian Federation’s attempted annexation of Crimea and these forces are likely to continue to take further actions in the Crimean Peninsula consistent with Russia’s continuing occupation of this part of Ukraine.  The international community, including the United States and Ukraine, does not recognize this purported annexation.  The Russian Federation maintains an extensive military presence in Crimea and along the border of eastern Ukraine.  In addition, there are continuing reports of abuses against the local population by de facto authorities in Crimea, particularly against those who are seen as challenging the current status quo on the peninsula

The situation in Ukraine is unpredictable and could change quickly.  U.S. citizens throughout Ukraine should avoid large crowds and be prepared to remain indoors and shelter in place for extended periods of time should clashes occur in their vicinity.

Peace Corps Volunteers departed Ukraine on February 25, and remain out of the country at this time.  U.S. Embassy Kyiv’s Consular Section is open for all public services; however, in light of the ongoing unrest, the Embassy has severely restricted the travel of U.S. Government personnel to areas in eastern Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula, and occasionally limits travel to other adjacent regions.  As a result, the Embassy’s ability to respond to emergencies involving U.S. citizens in eastern Ukraine and Ukraine’s Crimean region is extremely limited.

Ground transportation may be disrupted throughout the country.  Drivers may encounter roadblocks that restrict access on certain roads.  Following the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) to prohibit all U.S. flight operations within Dnipropetrovsk Flight Information Regions.  This expanded the FAA’s previous NOTAM restricting U.S. flight operations within the

 

 

 

 

 

 

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U.S. Embassy Dakar Issues Security Message on Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in Senegal

– Domani Spero

 

Today, the U.S. Embassy in Dakar issued a security message to U.S. citizens in Senegal concerning the country’s first confirmed case of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD):

On August 29, the Senegalese Minister of Health and Social Action (MOH) announced the country’s first confirmed case of EVD.  At a press conference, the MOH reported that Guinean authorities reached out to Senegalese authorities to advise them about a young Guinean student who is confirmed to have the virus.  The student is currently placed in isolation at a local hospital and is in stable condition.  At this time, there are no other confirmed cases in Senegal. The Department of State is working with the government of Senegal, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to monitor the situation.

 

On August 21, the government of Senegal has closed its borders with Guinea. It has also closed air and sea borders for aircraft and ships from Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

The State Department has previously issued travel warnings for two countries in the region - Liberia and Sierra Leone- and warned U.S. citizens against non-essential travel to these countries. Due to the lack of available medical resources in these countries and limited availability of medical evacuation options, the U.S. Department of State ordered the departure of family members residing with Embassy staff in Monrovia and in Freetown. (see U.S. Embassy Sierra Leone Now on Ordered Departure for Family Members #Ebola and U.S. Embassy Liberia Now on Ordered Departure For Family Members, New Travel Warning Issued).

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State Dept Issues Travel Alert on Ebola-Related Screening and Travel Restrictions in West Africa

– Domani Spero

 

On August 28, the State Department issued a Travel Alert for screening and restrictions related to the Ebola outbreak in parts of West Africa:

The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to screening procedures, travel restrictions, and reduced aviation transportation options in response to the outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.   This Travel Alert will expire on February 27, 2015.

Due to an outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the West African nations of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued  Level 3 Travel Warnings for those three countries advising against non-essential travel and provided guidance to reduce the potential for spread of EVD.  The CDC also issued a Level 2 Travel Alert for Nigeria to notify travelers of the Ebola outbreak in that country.  The Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website prominently features an Ebola Fact Sheet and links to the CDC Health Travel Warnings, Travel Alert, and general guidance about Ebola.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and CDC have also published and provided interim guidance to public health authorities, airlines, and other partners in West Africa for evaluating risk of exposure of persons coming from countries affected by EVD.  Measures can include screening, medical evaluation, movement restrictions up to 21 days, and infection control precautions.  Travelers who exhibit symptoms indicative of possible Ebola infection may be prevented from boarding and restricted from traveling for the 21-day period.  Please note neither the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs nor the U.S. Embassy have authority over quarantine issues and cannot prevent a U.S. citizen from being quarantined should local health authorities require it.  For questions about quarantine, please visit the CDC website that addresses quarantine and isolation issues.

The cost for a medical evacuation is very expensive.  We encourage U.S. citizens travelling to Ebola-affected countries to purchase travel insurance that includes medical evacuation for Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).  Policy holders should confirm the availability of medical care and evacuation services at their travel destinations prior to travel.

Some local, regional, and international air carriers have curtailed or temporarily suspended service to or from Ebola-affected countries.  U.S. citizens planning travel to or from these countries, in accordance with the CDC Health Travel Warnings and Health Travel Alert, should contact their airline to verify seat availability, confirm departure schedules, inquire about screening procedures, and be aware of other airline options.

The Department is aware that some countries have put in place procedures relating to the travel of individuals from the affected countries, including complete travel bans.  Changes to existing procedures may occur with little or no notice.  Please consult your airline or the embassy of your destination country for additional information.

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According to the WHO’s Outbreak News, the total number of probable and confirmed cases in the current outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) as reported by the respective Ministries of Health of Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone is 3069, with 1552 deaths.  The World Health Organization reports that the outbreak continues to accelerate with more than 40% of the total number of cases occurring within the past 21 days.  The overall case fatality rate is 52%.

A separate outbreak of Ebola virus disease not related to the four-country outbreak was laboratory-confirmed on  August 26 by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The DRC’s index case was a pregnant woman from a village who butchered a bush animal that had been killed and given to her by her husband. From July 28- August 18, 2014, a total of 24 suspected cases of haemorrhagic fever, including 13 deaths, have been identified in that outbreak.

As of this writing, Senegal also confirmed its first case of Ebola related to the four-country outbreak in West Africa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tweet of the Day: Visa That Saved a Mom’s Life

– Domani Spero

 

The tweet below is from Andrew Schapiro, the Ambassador-Designate to the Czech Republic who arrived in Prague on August 18, 2014 but yet to participate in official events pending the presentation of credentials per diplomatic protocol.

 

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Burn Bag: Oh, Mr. Personality, Your Visa Stamp So Sexy 😍 !!!

Via Burn Bag:

“Those consular adjudicators who met a “high bar for qualifications and underwent a rigorous screening process”? I’m not sure it’s a good idea to skip the rigorous screening process that normally applies to Foreign Service officers (FSOs), as these adjudicators have the very same powers as FSOs and appear to the outside world to be diplomats. For example, at my post, the very first time one officer represented the Mission at a representational event, he spent the time picking up women, rather than working (he’s married, and here with his family). Within two weeks, he’d told his wife their marriage was over. I can’t believe this represents the kind of good judgement the FS is looking for, any more than I believe the woman he picked up is interested in his personality.”

 

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Renunciation of U.S. Citizenship About to Get More Expensive: From $450 to $2,350

– Domani Spero

 

Updated 8:36 am PST, Aug 28, 2014:  The Federal Register has now published  this interim final rule online. This interim final rule becomes effective September 6, 2014. Written comments must be received on or before October 21, 2014. A note on “interim final rule” from the Federal Register: “When an agency finds that it has good cause to issue a final rule without first publishing a proposed rule, it often characterizes the rule as an “interim final rule,” or “interim rule.” This type of rule becomes effective immediately upon publication. In most cases, the agency stipulates that it will alter the interim rule if warranted by public comments. If the agency decides not to make changes to the interim rule, it generally will publish a brief final rule in the Federal Register confirming that decision.” See more here (pdf).

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Yesterday, we got the following via the Burn Bag:

“CA [Consular Affairs] will publish a proposed rule on Thursday in the Federal Register raising the fee for renunciation of citizenship from $450 to $2,350. This will not be popular. Fee based on annual fee study and lack of common sense.”

Today, the Federal register posted online the pre-publication interim final rule for the changes in the Schedule of Fees for consular services (see full interim rule embedded below).  The percentage  increase in the renunciation fee is 422%. With an estimated 2,378 annual renunciation of citizenship cases, this increase would net the USG an estimated $4,518,200.  Using the projected FY 2014 workload, Consular Afffairs’ estimated change in annual fees collected for affected consular services is $64,003,862. Below is an extract from the interim final rule which will be published on August 28:

The interim final rule makes changes to the Schedule of Fees for Consular Services of the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. The Department sets and collects its fees based on the concept of full cost recovery. The Department completed its most recent review of current consular fees and will implement several changes to the Schedule of Fees based on the new fees calculated by the Cost of Service Model (CoSM).
[...]
The CoSM demonstrated that documenting a U.S. citizen’s renunciation of citizenship is extremely costly, requiring American consular officers overseas to spend substantial amounts of time to accept, process, and adjudicate cases. For example, consular officers must confirm that the potential renunciant fully understands the consequences of renunciation, including losing the right to reside in the United States without documentation as an alien. Other steps include verifying that the renunciant is a U.S. citizen, conducting a minimum of two intensive interviews with the potential renunciant, and reviewing at least three consular systems before administering the oath of renunciation. The final approval of the loss of nationality must be done by law within the Directorate of Overseas Citizens Services in Washington, D.C., after which the case is returned to the consular officer overseas for final delivery of the Certificate of Loss of Nationality to the renunciant. These steps further add to the time and labor that must be involved in the process. Accordingly, the Department is increasing the fee for processing such requests from $450 to $2,350. As noted in the interim final rule dated June 28, 2010 (77 FR 36522), the fee of $450 was set substantially below the cost to the U.S. government of providing this service (less than one quarter of the cost). Since that time, demand for the service has increased dramatically, consuming far more consular officer time and resources, as reflected in the 2012 Overseas Time Survey and increased workload data. Because the Department believes there is no public benefit or other reason for setting this fee below cost, the Department is increasing this fee to reflect the full cost of providing the service. Therefore the increased fee reflects both the increased cost of the provision of service as well as the determination to now charge the full cost.

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 10.45.00 AM

The Department intends to implement this interim final rule, and initiate collection of the fees set forth herein, effective 15 days after publication of this rule in the Federal Register.
[...]
Administrative Procedure Act |  The Department is publishing this rule as an interim final rule, with a 60-day provision for post promulgation comments and with an effective date less than 30 days from the date of publication, based on the “good cause” exceptions set forth at 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(3)(B) and 553(d)(3). Delaying implementation of this rule would be contrary to the public interest because the fees in this rule fund consular services that are critical to national security, including screening visa applicants.

Anybody know where we can find a copy of CA’s Cost of Service Model (CoSM) study?

Apparently, dual citizens in Canada trying to shed their U.S. citizenship have created a  backlog at the U.S. consulate in Toronto that stretches into the third week of January 2015.

In any case, Americans who will be upset by this change in renunciation of citizenship fee can  contact Congress to complain about this. Their elected representatives, presumably will be super-helpful to the soon-to-be non-voters.

We should note that interim final rule also lowers the consular time fee of $231 to $135 per hour, per employee:

The Department previously charged a consular time fee of $231 per hour, per employee. This fee is charged when indicated on the Schedule of Fees or when services are performed away from the office or outside regular business hours. The CoSM estimated that the hourly consular time charge is now lower. Accordingly, the Department is lowering this fee to $135 per hour.

See the full interim final rule below. The document posted below is a pre-publication copy. It is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on 08/28/2014 and available online at http://federalregister.gov/a/2014-20516, and on FDsys.gov

 

 

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Consular Affairs Bureau Seeks to Expand Visa Waiver and Interview Waiver Programs

– Domani Spero

 

The State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs retired last April (see Asst Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs to Retire Effective April 3).  As far as we know, no successor has been nominated to date.  Pardon me? You want ……..? And you want Overseas Citizens Services DAS Jim Pettit?  Excuse me, Mr. Pettit was already nominated as Ambassador to the Republic of Moldova.  Who else?  You want ……. ? Well, maybe State should have a list of nominees and have all CA employees vote for their next boss per the bureau’s Leadership Tenets. Because wouldn’t that be a screamingly fantastic experiment?

In any case, CA’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Michele Bond has been the Acting A/S since April 2014.  This past June, at a hearing at the Senate Subcommittee on Tourism, Competitiveness and Innovation on  The State of U.S. Travel and Tourism Industry, Ms. Bond discussed how the bureau is meeting increasing demand for visas worldwide, particularly in  Brazil, India, Mexico and China (see prepared statement). Stressing that the State Department’s  “top priority in visa adjudication is always national security,” the prepared statement provides a look at where the bureau is seeking to expand.   Specifically, it seeks legislative authority to expand the Interview Waiver Program and wanted to see an expanded  Visa Waiver Program to include additional countries to the 37 current participants.  The  Interview Waiver Program (visa applications without personal appearances) is potentially controversial given its history, and probably the reason the bureau is seeking legislative authority from Congress.

Below are excerpts from the prepared statement:

Consular Adjudicators

In 2013, Brazilian visitors contributed $10.5 billion to the U.S. economy, a 13 percent increase from the prior year.  During the same period, Chinese visitors contributed $9.8 billion, an 11 percent increase from the prior year, or $5,400 per visitor.  To address this important opportunity to contribute to our country’s economy, 167 officers perform consular work in Mission China.  Consular Affairs created over 50 new officer positions in China in fiscal year 2012 alone.  In the same year, we increased consular staffing in Mission Brazil by 40 percent within six months, and eventually increased staffing by more than 100 percent.  We met the President’s Executive Order target of 40 percent capacity increase in Brazil in June 2012 and in China in November 2012, both ahead of schedule.
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In 2011, we realized our traditional hiring mechanisms wouldn’t allow us to deploy officers quickly enough to meet exploding visa demand in Brazil and China. We weren’t recruiting enough Portuguese- and Mandarin-speaking officers and could not wait for new entry-level officers to learn these essential languages.  In response, the Department created a rapid hiring pilot program to ramp up staffing at critical needs posts.  These adjudicators met a high bar for qualifications and underwent a rigorous screening process to assess their skills and background for these positions.  The first class of these adjudicators, appointed for one-year periods and limited to a maximum of five consecutive years, began in January 2012.  That year, we brought on a total of 24 Mandarin-speakers and 19 Portuguese-speakers, all of whom arrived at posts by mid-July.  In fiscal year 2013, we expanded the program to recruit Spanish-speakers.  To date, we have hired and deployed 59 adjudicators under this program to China, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic, representing an added capacity of 900,000 visa adjudications per year.

Interview Waiver Program

We are utilizing technology and advanced fraud detection techniques to help us expand the pool of applicants for whom interviews can be waived under the Interview Waiver Program.  This allows us to focus resources on higher-risk visa applicants while facilitating travel for low-risk applicants.

We are working with our colleagues across the government to expand this successful program, which became permanent in January 2014.  In fiscal year 2013, we waived over 380,000 interviews, and a recent study showed that tourist and business visitor visa holders whose interviews were waived, all of whom were subject to the full scope of security checks, posed no greater risk for an overstay than those who were interviewed.  We are interested in explicit legislative authority to supplement the existing Interview Waiver Program by adding additional low-risk applicant groups such as citizens of Visa Waiver Program members applying for other types of visas such as student or work visas; continuing students moving to a higher level of education; non-U.S. citizen Global Entry and NEXUS trusted traveler program members; and holders of visas in other categories, such as students and workers, who wish to travel for tourism or business.  The Department is interested in working with Congress on legislation specifically authorizing the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security to enhance our interview waiver programs.

Visa Waiver Program

[W]e are working with our U.S. government colleagues to expand the Visa Waiver Program, consistent with U.S. law, as was recently done with the addition of Chile to the program earlier this year.  With this designation, Chile now joins 37 other participants and is currently the only participant from Latin America.  The Department supports the proposed amendments contained in the Senate-passed Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, because we believe they would restructure the Visa Waiver Program in a manner that would strengthen law enforcement cooperation, while maintaining the program’s robust counterterrorism and criminal information sharing initiatives and promoting commerce and tourism in the United States.

No to Premium Visa Processing

However, we do not recommend offering premium visa processing.  We believe many visa applicants would be willing to pay any “premium processing fee” in the false belief that payment of a higher fee will ensure visa issuance, thus making any such program less efficient and compromising the integrity of the visa process.  The best approach to achieve greater efficiencies is the continued prioritization of student, medical, and urgent business travel applications, which is already in effect at consular posts worldwide.  We will also pursue increased visa validity where reciprocal agreement can be obtained with interagency support.

The full statement is available here.

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Filed under Congress, Consular Work, Foreign Service, FSOs, Functional Bureaus, Hearings, Interagency Cooperation, Security, Staffing the FS, State Department, Visas

Burn Bag: CA Bureau’s Biggest Problems — Washington Post and Diplopundit, Really?

Via Burn Bag:

“CA management feels the biggest problem facing CA are leaks to the Washington Post (old news) and comments on Diplopundit (new excuse).  So much for actually addressing real problems.”

No Way. Really?

Via reactiongifs.com

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