US Embassy Juba: An All-in-One Consular Officer on First Rodeo Works Out of a Storage Closet

By Domani Spero

The US Embassy in Juba, South Sudan started providing limited consular services in 2012.  The consular section is a one-person operation staff by a part-time, entry level officer. On his first tour.  According to the OIG report, the section processes official A and G visas only (diplomatic applicants and employees of designated international organizations), but also issue emergency passports, provides notarial services, and accepts passport applications.  But that’s not all. The consular officer operates out of a 9 x 7 foot storage closet; and the DCM has not done the required adjudication reviews.

Below excerpted from the OIG report on US Embassy Juba:

One part-time entry-level officer on his first tour staffs the section. He has done an outstanding job coping with the difficult environment and lack of consular infrastructure. His position is 40 percent consular and 60 percent political, but he spends the majority of time on consular issues.

There is no consular LE staff, so the officer also serves as consular cashier and prints visas and emergency passports. He does not have time to carry out regular consular business, set up consular systems and resources from scratch, prepare the first-ever submissions of the consular package and certification of consular management controls from Juba, and also handle his political workload. Lack of adequate training and operational support has led to deficiencies in internal controls and procedures.

As the sole consular officer at Embassy Juba, the entry-level officer is required to handle consular internal controls and accountability issues for which the Department provided him only limited training. To avoid serious consequences at post, it is essential that any sole consular officer receive adequate training prior to beginning his or her assignment.

Storage Closet as Office 

There is no office space available for a consular work area and no consular hard line or interview area. Consular space consists of a 9 x 7 foot storage closet that opens directly off the embassy cafeteria. The “consular closet” contains a workstation with consular peripheral equipment, an Automated Cash Register System machine, and a two-drawer safe holding all consular controlled items. The power connections are so limited that the officer cannot have the document printer and passport laminator plugged in at the same time.

Standard measurements of consular productivity do not apply in Juba. After the officer has collected documents and any fees from the applicant, he walks across the compound to the consular workspace, deposits the fee in the Automated Cash Register System machine, and processes the case. He then walks back to the compound access control building and delivers the materials to the applicant. This process is awkward and more time consuming than similar services would be in a more traditional section. The consular section has dealt with several complex high-profile cases in recent months, including an arrest case involving an American citizen with serious medical issues, which generated significant congressional interest; a death case in a remote part of the country; a medical evacuation of a patient on the verge of death; and a number of arrest cases. The lack of basic transportation and communication infrastructure and the limited capacity of the newly installed government make Juba one of the most challenging environments in the world for consular work.

Cats and Dogs – Haven’t You Heard of Telephones?

Embassy Juba processes only A and G nonimmigrant visas. Referrals for other visa categories go to Embassy Nairobi under a memorandum of understanding between the two embassies. There is a history of misunderstandings, missed travel, and recriminations between them, however. Embassy Juba has not always understood the requirements of the referral program and visa policy and appears to have attempted to intervene inappropriately in some visa cases. Embassy Nairobi has not always displayed an understanding of conditions in South Sudan.

Cool DCMs Do Visa Adjudication Reviews

The DCM has not been carrying out required adjudication reviews for nonimmigrant visa cases. This failure weakens oversight of the consular function. Such oversight is critically important at Embassy Juba, where a first-tour officer handles consular operations.

Firts-tour officers are not known to complain or even know what to ask for. They’re just learning, they’re not supposed to go solo.  Still, they’re the only ones, in practice, who go on directed assignments to places few people put on top of the bid lists.  So, what can be done about the consular section working out of a consular closet pending the construction of a new embassy in 2018?  We don’t know, but certainly if the building has electricity, something can be done about that power connection so the poor sod can plug in more than one machine.

In FY2012, the Bureau of Consular Affairs generated approximately $3.14 billion in consular fee revenue, of which 78% or $2.45 billion was retained by the State Department and shared among its regional and functional bureau.  That’s in the official fact sheet.

It can afford to rewire that whole 9 x 7 foot storage closet where the mission’s only, consular officer works every day.  Ay, caramba!

Also, one of the OIG recommendations is for the Bureau of Consular Affairs to send a temporary duty consular officer to Embassy Juba to set up internal control systems and help prepare the consular package.  While at it, perhaps the same TDY officer ought to give a mandatory briefing on visa referrals for all embassy personnel authorized to write referrals for visa applicants processed at US Embassy Nairobi.

Anyone who skips the mandatory briefing should Google Alden Stallings.