US Mission South Africa to Amcits: Avoid All Non-Essential Movement #CivilUnrest

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On July 13, US Mission South Africa issued a Security Alert recommending that U.S. citizens avoid all non-essential travel within areas affected by blockages, increased violence, vandalism and criminal activity

Event:  Civil unrest and protests continue throughout KwaZulu-Natal Province and Johannesburg and Pretoria in Gauteng Province.  Following reports of blockages on many provincial and municipal transit routes, increased violence, vandalism, and criminal activity at commercial centers, and calls for calm by President Cyril Ramaphosa, the U.S. Mission to South Africa recommends avoiding all non-essential movement within affected areas.  Exercise heightened caution in commercial areas where looting and violence can and has occurred suddenly.  The situation throughout many areas of these provinces is unstable and authorities are not able to respond to all events.   

The U.S. Consulate General Durban is available for emergency services only.  The U.S. Consulates General in Johannesburg and Cape Town are operating as normal.

There is currently a “Level 4-Do Not Travel” Advisory for South Africa due to COVID-19 and related restrictions and conditions. The advisory also advised U.S. citizens to “Exercise increased caution in South Africa due to crime and civil unrest. “
The advisory dated July 6, 2021 was “Reissued with updates to COVID-19 information and “If you decide to Travel.”
US Mission South Africa is currently headed by Chargé d’Affaires Todd P. Haskell who joined Mission South Africa as the Chargé d’Affaires ad interim in March 2021. Ambassador Haskell previously served as the United States Ambassador to the Republic of Congo from July 2017 until January 2021. He is a 35-year career member of the Foreign Service, class of Minister Counselor.
Ambassador Haskell’s second in command is Heather Merritt who was “chosen by the Department of State to serve as Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) at the U.S. Mission to South Africa, effective April 16, 2021.”  According to her official bio, she arrived in South Africa on August 28, 2020 as the U.S. Consul General in Johannesburg.

 

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US Embassy Kabul Interviewed 1,600 Afghan SIV Applicants Since April, Interviewed ≠ Issued Visas

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Via DPB July 12, 2021:

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. In addition – on Afghanistan, in addition to the change in command that happened earlier today, the embassy announced overnight that it’s going to resume immigrant visa processing. And I am just wondering, is this resumption going to make a dent in the backlog, or how much of a dent will it make in the backlog? Does it affect the relocation plans or the option for relocation, and is anything – has anything been decided on that front?

MR PRICE: Well, you are correct that the embassy has announced over Twitter that it will resume immigrant visa interviews this week, and that does include the SIV process. As you know, the SIV process is written into law. It was designed by Congress and involves more than a dozen steps, and that includes both a role for the Department of State as well as for the Department of Homeland Security. As we’ve said before, there are approximately 18,000 Afghan principal applicants at some stage of this process as of May of 2021.

Approximately half of those applicants are at some stage of the process pending applicant action, so in other words, approximately 9,000 or half of these applicants need to take action before the U.S. Government can begin processing their case. About 30 percent of these applicants are awaiting a decision at the chief of mission stage and the final 20 percent were approved by the chief of mission stage and they’re moving through the application process, either in the petition or the visa processing stages.

You are also right in your question that we have mobilized significant resources to do all we can to make a dent in the applicants. As you know, we have been very clear and consistent that we have – the United States has – a special responsibility to those who have assisted us in different ways over the years, often at great risk to themselves, sometimes to their families as well. That is also why we have identified a group of SIV applicants – that is to say, individuals who were already somewhere in that SIV processing chain – whom at the right time before the military withdrawal is complete later this year relocate or at least offer to relocate to a third country as they go through their SIV application processing. We have been in conversations, diplomatic discussions with a number of countries around the world. These have – discussions have occurred at any number of levels, to include senior levels, but we don’t have any updates for you regarding that.

The other point I would make is that throughout this process, we have prioritized the safety and the security of those who, often at great risk to themselves, have helped the United States over the years. And so we will be in some cases constrained in terms of what we can say publicly about relocation, about numbers, about certain details. But as soon as we have more to share on that front, we will do so.

QUESTION: Okay, but how much of a – once the interviews resume, how many can they do? How many can – how much of a dent do you think you can make in the backlog?

MR PRICE: Well, look, we are moving just as quickly as we can. The —

QUESTION: You can’t say – just say that so I don’t keep – because I’m going to keep asking the question until you – if you don’t know, that’s fine. But I’m just – that’s my question.

MR PRICE: Matt, we have already made significant progress in shortening the period it requires for an applicant to go from the start of the process to – through the visa provision stage. We have shortened that by a number of months and we have done that by surging individuals, by – through operations in Kabul, but the other important point is that much of this adjudication and processing that takes place at the chief of mission stage need not and does not take place in Kabul. This is a point that we have made in terms of our embassy staffing posture in Kabul. We are able to process individuals at the chief of mission stage from here in Washington.

And the other point I would make – again, this program is defined in statute. It was passed by Congress, designed by Congress. We will continue to work with Congress to find ways that we could potentially streamline these operations, knowing that there are to date more than 18,000 people who have – who are somewhere in that process. Again, our goal is to shorten that process as much as we can in a way that is pursuant to the safety and security needs of these individuals but also responsible in the way that we are processing the individuals.

QUESTION: So since the President’s announcement that all troops would be gone by the end – by September 11th and now August 31st – but since the initial announcement back in May, how many SIV applicants – applications have been approved, and how many of those approved visa holders have been admitted to the United States? May, June, July – that’s three months.

MR PRICE: We can see if we can provide a snapshot of that three-month period. I don’t have that —

QUESTION: Well, is it more than zero? I don’t know. I’m —

MR PRICE: We’ll see if we can provide specific numbers.

CDA Ross Wilson did post on Twitter that Embassy Kabul has “assisted over 15,000 Afghans relocate to the U.S.”
Not clear what is the time frame of that relocated to US number? He also noted that post is “working hard to process SIV applicants and have interviewed more than 1600 along with their family members since April.”
Note that “interviewed” does not mean the case was approved or that the visa was issued.
If there are “approximately 18,000 Afghan principal applicants at some stage of this process as of May of 2021” — that 18,000 figure is not the final number needing visas as that does not include the count for family members who may qualify for derivative status based on the principal applicants.
Also if all US troops must be gone by August 31st, and Embassy Kabul did interview 1,600 SIV applicants for the last three months, how is it going to tackle the rest of the backlog before time’s up? We really want to now how many visas were also issued during the last three months.
But let’s just say there are 18,000 applicants waiting to be processed — 1,600 interviews in three months means 6,400 cases a year. That means, they won’t get anywhere near 18,000 – well, 17,600 until the first quarter of 2024, if we go by that number. And that’s just the interviews. What’s the refusal rate for this type of visas?
Another scenario, of course, is that Embassy Kabul may have a larger processing capacity for SIVs that was impacted by COVID, and that post can actually process more than 1,600 interviews in three months. But we won’t know what’s that going to be like until the operation returns to normal. Given the recent COVID outbreak at post, what’s normal going to be like?
We should note that for FY2020, the State Department issued a total of  8,722 Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs); this includes 7,878 SIVs for Afghanistan. In FY2019, 11,384 SIVs were issued worldwide, including 9,805 for Afghanistan. In FY2016, 16,176 SIVs were issued including 2,270 for Iraq, and 12,298 for Afghanistan.

 

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How a Small Post in Africa Gets Lost in the Shuffle

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This is a story about a small post in Africa forgotten by the time lords of Foggy Bottom. Not too long ago, this post quietly lost its top two officials at the same time. The State Department made no official announcement of their  departures from post. A retired ambassador was eventually sent down to take care of the far away shop.  Embassy life continued. The retired ambassador’s temporary assignment eventually ended.
An Acting Chargé d´Affaires (A/CDA) soon assumed charge, we were told. Shortly after the death of RBG in September 2020, the A/CDA complained that the flag at the official residence was not flown at half staff in her memory.  It turned out the domestic help who would have been tasked to do this had been fired and there was no replacement hired.
Dangit!
The newly designated Acting Charge d’affaires did not remember that he previously fired the live-in house manager of the ambassador’s official residence? The employee who had been in that residence for almost three decades was given a two-weeks warning. The local employee reportedly claimed no reason was given for his/her dismissal nor did said employee received any counseling.
There was also reportedly no financial settlement after the firing but this small post did have a small farewell ceremony.
“It’s not every day the head of an ancient African tribe comes to the Embassy to rebuke the acting Chargé d ́Affaires,” we learned.

The house manager’s pastor spoke, echoing the same themes, then praying for everyone present to get their hearts’ desire. Then, turning to the official responsible for the house managers’ predicament, the pastor prayed that the A/CDA would receive extra wisdom.

The chief of the ancient African tribe to which the embassy house manager belonged to, also came to gave a speech. He said it was unusual for him to speak at an event like this, but he had to come to stand with his brother, such a good and well-respected man who has been so unfairly treated.  

At the conclusion of the ceremony, the A/CDA was reportedly pleased with the ceremony not recognizing the rebuke from the visitors.
We understand that the top two senior officials at the embassy then subsequently went on R&R at the same time for a month plus two weeks of quarantine. Post was left with no trained management official except for the embassy’s computer support specialists working at the Management section. The incoming Regional Security Officer’s residence could not be  ready for occupancy and MED was reportedly acting as part Facilities Manager!
Then there were the vacant positions:
  • HRO/FMO — vacant. Incumbent transferred in summer, no replacement identified
  • GSO — vacant. Incumbent transferred summer, replacement due fall + 2 weeks quarantine
  • FMO — vacant Incumbent transferred summer, replacement due fall + 2 weeks quarantine
  • IMO — dual-hatted as Acting Management Officer
  • IMO Deputy — dual-hatted as Acting GSO
  • MED — partially acting as Facilities Manager
  • CONS — vacant. No replacement identified.
One of two consular officers transferred from post in 2020. The identified successor was discouraged by post from coming because of likely issues with accreditation with the host country. Consular Affairs reportedly had no officer identified to fill the vacant Consular officer position at post.
Second consular position was previously removed from post staffing in 2019. The incumbent officer did not only leave post but also left the Foreign Service.
The howler we heard says “There are other elements to this shit show, but mainly this Embassy is perhaps the worst managed place I have ever worked.”
How many more posts like this get lost in the shuffle?

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Snapshot: State/CA’s Revenue Drop, Staffing , Backlogs

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Excerpt from Department of State/AILA Liaison Committee Meeting May 27, 2021:
11.DOS’ decision last year to suspend most of its visa operations overseas, while understandable given the COVID-19 global pandemic, has resulted in enormous frustration for applicants, who face a sizeable backlog of pending immigrant visa cases and limited availability of appointment slots for nonimmigrant travel. Please describe steps now being taken or that are under consideration to staff-up overseas consular operations and increase the numbers of visa appointments? Specifically, are there plans to surge overseas staffing with new officers or temporary assignment or detail (TDY) personnel, as was done a few years ago with domestic passport agencies to reduce their backlogs?
While the Department did suspend operations in March 2020, Presidential Proclamation 10014 (effective April 23, 2020 –Feb 24, 2021) and the geographic proclamations (up until April 8, 2021) also played a major role in limiting our ability to process immigrant visas. The Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) is under enormous financial pressure as a result of an almost 50 percent drop in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.We decreased staffing at some posts based upon demand, though those changes are not irreversible. We constantly monitor staffing and demand and redistribute resources as necessary. We examine all options available as we balance resource constraints and workload. The provision of services to U.S. citizens remains our top priority, but we are directing many resources to address the IV backlog. We are employing a number of innovative solutions to assist IV processing posts, including having other missions provide remote help on everything from correspondence to document review. We are utilizing TDY staffing as resources and conditions allow. Local country conditions can affect our ability to send TDY personnel to process these cases as the safety and welfare of our staff is paramount.
12.Since consular operations are fee-based, is DOS considering an increase in certain consular fees as part of a strategy to properly staff and tackle the backlog?
Possibly, if additional resources are being requested through the formulation process, as those requirements are part of the update on unit costs. Recommendations to adjust fees are made after reviewing annual updates of the cost of service model. It is then that the Comptroller’s office initiates discussions with CA leadership for decisions on fee recommendations for consular services based on full cost recovery to adequately and appropriately fund the Consular and Border Security Program. Once additional resources or in this case, staff, are in place or have been formally requested in the formulation process, the Comptroller’s office would capture them in the annual review to ensure that those additional resources are accounted for and then make the appropriate fee recommendations.

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@StateDept Updates Application of U.S. Citizenship Transmission in Assisted Reproductive Technology

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Via state.gov:

Recognizing the advances in assisted reproductive technology (ART), the State Department is updating our interpretation and application of Section 301 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which establishes the requirements for acquisition of U.S. citizenship at birth.

Children born abroad to parents, at least one of whom is a U.S. citizen and who are married to each other at the time of the birth, will be U.S. citizens from birth if they have a genetic or gestational tie to at least one of their parents and meet the INA’s other requirements. Previously, the Department’s interpretation and application of the INA required that children born abroad have a genetic or gestational relationship to a U.S. citizen parent.

This updated interpretation and application of the INA takes into account the realities of modern families and advances in ART from when the Act was enacted in 1952.

This change will allow increased numbers of married couples to transmit U.S. citizenship to their children born overseas, while continuing to follow the citizenship transmission requirements established in the INA. Requirements for children born to unmarried parents remain unchanged.

At the same time, we remain vigilant to the risks of citizenship fraud, exploitation, and abuse. As with all citizenship and immigration benefits we examine, the Department will implement this policy in a manner that addresses these concerns.

8 FAM 304.3 Acquisition of U.S. Citizenship at Birth – Assisted Reproductive Technology has been updated.

8 FAM 304.3-1  BIRTH ABROAD TO A U.S. CITIZEN GESTATIONAL MOTHER WHO IS ALSO THE LEGAL MOTHER AT THE TIME SHE GIVES BIRTH (Birth mother, but NOT genetic mother)
(CT:CITZ-33;   04-03-2020)

a. A child born abroad to a U.S. citizen gestational mother who is also the legal parent of the child at the time of birth in the location of birth, whose genetic parents are an anonymous egg donor and the U.S. citizen husband of the gestational legal mother, is considered for citizenship purposes to be a person born in wedlock of two U.S. citizens, with a citizenship claim adjudicated under the Immigration and nationality Act (INA) 301(c).

b. A child born abroad to a U.S. citizen gestational mother who is the legal parent of the child at the time of birth in the location of birth, whose genetic parents are an anonymous sperm donor and the U.S. citizen wife of the gestational legal mother, is considered for citizenship purposes to be a person born in wedlock of two U.S. citizens, with a citizenship claim adjudicated under INA 301(c).

c.  A child born abroad to a U.S. citizen gestational mother who is the legal parent of the child at the time of birth in the location of birth, whose genetic parents are an anonymous egg donor and the non-U.S. citizen husband of the gestational legal mother, is considered for citizenship purposes to be a person born in wedlock of a U.S. citizen mother and alien father, with a citizenship claim adjudicated under INA 301(g).

d. A child born abroad to a U.S. citizen gestational mother who is the legal parent of the child at the time of birth in the location of birth, and who is not married to the genetic mother or father of the child at the time of the child’s birth, is considered for citizenship purposes to be a person born out of wedlock of a U.S. citizen mother, with a citizenship claim adjudicated under INA 309(c).

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Overseas Americans May Use Their Expired Passports to Return to the U.S. Until 12/31/21

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On May 24, the State Department announced that overseas Americans may be able to return to the United States on their expired passports until December 31, 2021 under certain circumstances:

If you are overseas and your passport expired on or after January 1, 2020, you may be able to use your expired passport to return directly to the United States until December 31, 2021.

You qualify for this exception if all the following are true:

    • You are a U.S. citizen.
    • You are currently abroad seeking direct return to the United States.
    • You are flying directly to the United States, a United States territory, or have only short-term transit (“connecting flights”) through a foreign country on your direct return to the United States or to a United States Territory.
    • Your expired passport was originally valid for 10 years. Or, if you were 15 years of age or younger when the passport was issued, your expired passport was valid for 5 years.
    • Your expired passport is undamaged.
    • Your expired passport is unaltered.
    • Your expired passport is in your possession.

You do not qualify for this exception if:

    • You wish to depart from the United States to an international destination.
    • You are currently abroad seeking to travel to a foreign country for any length of stay longer than an airport connection en route to the United States or to a United States territory.
    • Your expired passport was limited in validity.
    • Your expired passport is a special issuance passport (such as a diplomatic, official, service, or no-fee regular passport).
    • Your expired passport is damaged.
    • Your expired passport is altered.
    • Your expired passport is not in your possession.

All other passport rules and regulations remain in effect. The Department of Homeland Security maintains discretion to reject any bearer in accordance with 22 CFR 53.2(b)(7) and 8 CFR 235.1(b).

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Abdo Luftu Ali v. U.S. Department of State: U.S. Passport Revocation After Almost 30 Years

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Excerpt from Abdo Luftu Ali v. U.S. Department of State/Memorandum of Opinion March 17, 2021:

Plaintiff Abdo Ali (“plaintiff’ or “Ali’”) brings this action under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) against the U.S. Department of State (“State Department” or “defendant”), seeking an order setting aside defendant’s revocation of Ali’s U.S. passport.
[…]
Ali currently resides in Oxford, Mississippi, but he was born in Yemen in 1979. At the time, Ali’s father was a U.S. citizen, having naturalized approximately ten and a half years earlier in January 1969. Compl. 4 8. In 1990, Ali was first issued a U.S. passport under Section 301(g) of the INA on the grounds that he was a child of a U.S. citizen, who, prior to Ali’s birth, had been present in the U.S. for at least ten years, including at least five while he was older than fourteen. Jd. 410. Ali entered the United States in 1994 and was issued passport renewals in 1999 and 2009. Id. § 13. Because passports “may be issued only to a U.S. national,” 22 C.F.R. § 51.2(a), the initial issuance of Ali’s passport and the subsequent renewals necessarily constituted findings that Ali was a U.S. national. See Compl. ff 14, 19. On January 8, 2019, however, the State Department revoked Ali’s passport on the ground that he was not a U.S. national. Id. ¥ 15; see also 22 C.F.R. § 51.62(b) (“The Department may revoke a passport when the Department has determined that the bearer of the passport is not a U.S. national.”). In a letter to Ali, the State Department explained its decision by noting that sometime after the 2009 renewal, “[a]n investigation .. . revealed that [Ali’s] father was not physically present in the United States for ten years before [Ali’s] birth,” as was then required by Section 301(g) of the INA. See Ex. A to Pl.’s Opp. to Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss (“PI.’s Opp.’””) [Dkt. #9-1] at 1.! The letter cited documentation supporting its position but lacked any explanation as to why the State Department had initially issued Ali a passport and subsequently renewed it twice. Jd.; Compl. 418.

On May 30, 2020, Ali filed this suit under the APA, 5 U.S.C. § 701 et seq., seeking to set aside the revocation decision. See Compl. at 8. The complaint alleges that, “to the best of his knowledge,” Ali is a citizen and national of the United States, id. { 3, and that the State Department’s decision to revoke his passport was “arbitrary . . . as well as not being in accordance with law.” Id. § 1. In the alternative, the complaint states that “even if [Ali] is not a national of the United States,” the revocation should still be set aside because the State Department “is estopped by laches and equitable estoppel from revoking [] Ali’s passport.” Jd. § 2.
[…]
In an attempt to avoid the preclusive effect of § 1503(a), Ali argues in the alternative that he is permitted to proceed with this suit under the APA regardless of whether he is, in fact, a U.S. national. See Pl.’s Opp. at 3 (invoking this Court’s equitable powers under the doctrines of laches and estoppel). Under this theory, plaintiff would have the Court set aside defendant’s revocation of Ali’s passport even though he fails to allege that he meets the necessary precondition for a U.S. passport—being a U.S. national, 22 C.F.R. § 51.2(a). See Pl.’s Mot. at 4—5 n.2 (stating that Ali does not “claim unequivocally” that he is a U.S. national, but “maintains that .. . even if he is not a U.S. national, the [State] Department should be estopped from denying it”). Unfortunately for plaintiff, this I cannot do.

The power to issue passports rests solely in the Secretary of State or a designee. 22 U.S.C. § 211a (providing that the Secretary possesses the authority to “grant and issue passports .. . and no other person shall grant, issue, or verify such passports”). Passports may only be issued to U.S. nationals, see 22 C.F.R. § 51.2(a), and the State Department may revoke those passports when it determines that the bearer of the passport is not a U.S. national. 22 C.F.R. § 51.62(b); see also 22 U.S.C. § 212 (“No passport shall be granted or issued to or verified for any other persons than those owing allegiance, whether citizens or not, to the United States.”’).

The Court’s power to craft equitable remedies, while broad, does not permit it to interfere with this statutory and regulatory scheme. See INS v. Pangilinan, 486 U.S. 875, 883-84 (1988) (holding courts’ equitable authority does not extend to crafting remedies contrary to Congressional statutes). Especially in the immigration context, the Court may not rely on the doctrine of laches or the doctrine of equitable estoppel to override public policy as established by Congress. See id. at 885 (“Neither by application of the doctrine of estoppel, nor by invocation of equitable powers, nor by any other means does a court have the power to confer citizenship in violation of [statutory limitations].”).

Congress has established that only U.S. nationals may receive a passport. See 22 U.S.C. § 212. It has also provided, through 8 U.S.C. § 1503(a), a mechanism to challenge agency determinations that an individual is not a U.S. national. But where a _ plaintiff refuses to pursue this avenue of relief, courts may not grant through alternative equitable means what is effectively the same result—a determination that the State Department must treat plaintiff as if he is a U.S. national. See Pangilinan, 486 U.S. at 883-84.

Accordingly, no matter how plaintiff frames his complaint, it fails to state a claim under the APA.
[…] the Court GRANTS defendant’s motion to dismiss and DISMISSES the action in its entirety.

In footnote 7, the Court talks about what must be “exceedingly frustrating”:

The Court appreciates that the State Department’s conduct in recognizing Ali as a U.S. national for almost thirty years, only to reverse that determination with minimal explanation, must be exceedingly frustrating. But plaintiffs recourse nonetheless lies under Section 360(a) of the INA, not the APA. See Hassan, 793 F. Supp. 2d at 443 (noting that although multiple inconsistent decisions from the government over a span of many years created an understandable frustration, no action was cognizable under the APA with respect to the revocation of plaintiff’s passport).

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US Mission India Now on ‘Voluntary Departure’ for Family Members of USG Employees (Updated)

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Update 4/29/21 at 8:23 PST : The State Department’s official word on US Mission India’s authorized departure via the DPB of April 29, 2021:

QUESTION: The – in addition to this aid, you guys put out this new travel notice, travel alert today, which mentioned the authorized departure for families of U.S. government personnel at the embassy and the, what is it, four consulates. I’m just curious. Is this by popular demand? Were there people – and I know you don’t want to get into numbers or anything, but were people wanting to leave and have people left already under this – the authorized departure?

MR PRICE: Well, thanks for that question. And I think it’s important to speak for just a moment about what this was and importantly what this was not. Out of an abundance of caution, the Department of State authorized the voluntary departure, so-called authorized departure, of family members of embassy – at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi and the consulates throughout the country. Authorized departure doesn’t force anyone to leave; it doesn’t require anyone to leave. It gives these family members the option to depart if they wish. Departure, again, is not required.

There’s also been I think some misreporting, perhaps a misperception, that we provided revised guidance to private American citizens in India. That is not true. There was a pro forma reissuance of the travel advisory, the level four travel advisory that had previously been in effect, given COVID not only in India but also globally as well.

QUESTION: Yeah, but are people taking advantage of it? Were people wanting this, or was it just decided from here and from the ambassador or whoever the charge is that this would be a good idea? I mean, is there a rush to the exits?

MR PRICE: I don’t have the numbers. I’m not sure we’d be able to provide them, regardless, given —

QUESTION: I don’t want your numbers. I just want to know if people are taking advantage of this.

MR PRICE: Well, I think it speaks to the fact that we put the safety and health of our employees and their families, in this case – we prioritize that, and so that is why the department thought it prudent to give them the option to depart the country if they so wished.

 

This is a follow-up post to @StateDept Mum on US Mission India’s Covid Outbreak: Four FSNs Dead (Not Two), 100+ Positive Cases, What Else?
We’ve learned that four locally employed staff have died at US Mission India due to COVID, and not two as previously reported. One FSN died in November, and three have died during the current wave. We understand that there’s “a ton of infections” at US Mission India. While most of those ill are locally employed staff, there are some U.S. direct hire Americans who are also sick. There is speculation that most of the infection occurred before the vaccine became available at posts. We understand that Mission India has now gone back to Phase 1, mostly conducting work via telework. 
Late on April 27, we also learned that family members of U.S. Government employees  were approved for authorized departure, an order that allows for their voluntary evacuation from post. There was no official announcement of the order on April 27. 
Previously, on April 21, 2021, the State Department issued a “Level 4-Do Not Travel” advisory for India due to COVID-19, crime, and terrorism.
On April 23, US Mission India issued an alert that Flights Departing India Are Available:

 Flights to U.S. cities remain open.  However, those originating from India to Canada, the UK, UAE, and South East Asia (Singapore, Hong Kong) have been suspended.  United Airlines temporarily cancelled their flights on April 23 from Delhi to Chicago, Newark, and San Francisco due to technical difficulties.  United is working to restore service as quickly as possible.  Travelers should check with the airline for scheduling updates.  United Airlines’ codeshare flights on Lufthansa and United’s flights from Mumbai have not been impacted.  Delta’s codeshare flights from India on Air France and KLM also remain operational.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 4 Travel Health Notice and the Department of State has issued a Level 4 Travel Advisory advising against all travel to India.

Post has issued three health alerts since April 28:
Late on April 28, the State Department issued an updated Level 4-Do Not Travel advisory for India advising Americans “not travel to India due to COVID-19” and to “exercise increased caution due to crime and terrorism.” It also announced  that the Department “on April 28, 2021 … approved the voluntary departure of family members of U.S. government employees.” It advised that “U.S. citizens who wish to depart India should take advantage of available commercial transportation options. “
The SCA bureau is currently headed by Acting A/S Dean Thompson while the nominee for assistant secretary Ambassador Donald Lu awaits confirmation.
No nominee has been announced for U.S. Mission India as of this writing.  US Mission India is currently under the leadership of Chargé D’Affaires Donald L. Heflin with Brian Heath as Acting Deputy Chief of Mission. The constituent posts are headed by the following career diplomats:

 

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Amb. Rena Bitter to be Asst Secretary of State for Consular Affairs

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On April 21, President Biden announced his intent to nominate SFSO and former Ambassador Rena Bitter to be the next Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs. The WH released the following brief bio:
Rena Bitter, Nominee for Assistant Secretary of State, Consular Affairs, Department of State
Rena Bitter, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, is Dean of the Leadership and Management School at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute and a former U.S. Ambassador to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.  Previously, she was the U.S. Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and chief of the consular section in Amman, Jordan.  She also served in London, Bogota, and Mexico City.  In Washington, she was Director of the State Department’s Operations Center, and a Special Assistant to the Secretary of State.  Bitter has a Bachelor’s Degree from Northwestern University, and a J.D. from Southern Methodist University.  She is a recipient of American Citizens Abroad’s Thomas Jefferson Award for outstanding service to the American community abroad.  She speaks Spanish, Arabic and Vietnamese.

CG Rena Bitter with Ambassador Ted Osius | Via FB (2016)

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (Jun 27, 1952; P.L. 82-414; 66 Stat. 174) established within the Department of State a Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs, headed by an Administrator designated by the Secretary of State with rank equal to that of an Assistant Secretary. In 1962, this position became a Presidential appointee subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. In 1977, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1978 changed the Administrator’s title to “Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs.”
All appointees to the Consular Affairs bureau from 1953 to 1980 were non-career appointees. This trend was interrupted by the appointments of career FSOs Diego Asencio in 1980, and again in 1983 with  Joan Clark. Political appointees assumed charged of the bureau in 1989 when Elizabeth Tamposi was appointed, and more recently in 2017 with Carl Risch’s appointment. If confirmed Ambassador Bitter would only be the seventh career FSO to lead the most public facing bureau of the State Department.

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Snapshot: Visas Issued at Foreign Service Posts (FY 2016-2020)

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Via state.gov

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