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@StateDept Gets Exemption From Trump Federal Hiring Freeze, March Classes Are On

Posted: 2:07 am  ET
Updated: 2:27 pm PT

 

The AP’s Matt Lee reports that the State Department was granted an exemption from the Trump administration’s hiring freeze on most federal employees. It will bring on 175 new diplomats: 70 entry-level diplomats, 80 mid-level specialists and 25 consular fellows, non-foreign service officers who assist visa processing at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.

The report says that the State Department has been granted an exemption from the Trump hiring freeze. The number only includes a fraction of the projected hires this year for the Foreign Service.  The State Department has projected 615 positions for FY16 which includes 97 new positions and 518 projected total attrition (employees lost to retirement, resignation, death). Total hiring for FY17 is projected at 599 with 98 new positions and 501 projected total attrition.

It looks like this exemption affects only the March classes scheduled to start on March 6 for FS officers,  and March 20 for FS specialists (see @StateDept Sends Out Job Offers to Prospective FSOs For March 6 Class But — Will There Be Jobs?).  Beyond these positions, it appears that the hiring freeze is on, including a halt in the hiring of eligible family members. 

There are classes scheduled for July and September but it appears no invitations have gone out for those classes.  The State Department’s careers.gov says, “We do not yet have information regarding hiring authority for future classes. This is not unusual.”  We anticipate that the OPM plan required after 90 days under the federal hiring freeze executive order will be available by then.

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Snapshot: Historical and Projected Foreign Service Attrition

Posted: 3:39 am  ET
Updated: Feb 14, 2:18 pm PT: Notification reportedly went out o/a 9 pm on Feb 13 that the FSO/FSS March classes are on.

 

According to the State Department, Foreign Service (FS) and Civil Service (CS) attrition is categorized as either non-retirements or retirements and as voluntary or involuntary.  Nearly all retirements in the CS are voluntary; however, in the FS, retirements may be either voluntary or involuntary.  Between FY 2016 and FY 2020, the Department projects that close to 5,400 career CS and FS employees will leave the Department due to various types of attrition.

Via state.gov:

Involuntary retirements include those due to reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65, which cannot be waived unless an employee is serving in a Presidential appointment, and those who trigger the “up-or-out” rules in the FS personnel system (e.g., restrictions in the number of years FS employees can remain in one class or below the Senior Foreign Service threshold).

Voluntary non-retirements include resignations, transfers, and deaths.

Involuntary non-retirements consist of terminations, as well as “selection out” of tenured employees and non-tenured decisions for entry level FS employees.

Overall attrition in the FS increased from 485 in FY 2014 to 539 in FY 2015. Most FS attrition is due to retirements. In FY2015, over two thirds of all separations in the FS were retirements. For the FY 2016 to FY 2020 period, the attrition mix is expected to be 81 percent retirements and 19 percent non-retirements.

FS Generalist Attrition in FY2014 is 242; in FY2015 the humber is 279. The number of retirements increased from 169 in FY 2014 to 186 in FY 2015 and the number of non-retirements increased from 73 in FY 2014 to 93 in FY 2015. FS Generalist attrition rates increased only slightly from 3.3 percent in FY 2014 to 3.8 percent in FY 2015. Most of the non-retirements were at the entry-level.

FS Specialist Attrition in FY2014 is 243;  and in FY 2015 the number is 260. The number of retirements decreased from 179 in FY 2014 to 178 in FY 2015 and the number of non- retirements grew from 64 in FY 2014 to 82 in FY 2015. FS Specialist attrition rates increased slightly from 4.7 percent in FY 2014 to 4.8 percent in FY 2015. (Counts exclude conversions within the FS and into the CS. Rates include conversions.)

attrition

|>> Attrition in the FS workforce is projected to average 491 employees per year between FY 2016 and FY 2020, nearly nine percent lower than last year’s projected average annual attrition of 541. This projection represents a two percent decrease per year when compared to the annual average attrition of 500 for the past five years.

|>>As detailed in Tables 11 and 12, the projected average annual attrition over the next five years for FS Generalists is expected to essentially mirror the average annual attrition of the previous five years, 261 vs. 257, and the average for the FS Specialist workforce is expected to decrease by five percent, 230 vs. 243.

|>>The two largest FS Specialist groups – Security Officers and Office Management Specialists – account for over 40 percent of the average annual Specialist attrition. As the attrition trends change, attrition projections will be revised next year to further reflect the changes in separations.

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With Zero Information From @StateDept, Foreign Service Candidates Remain in Limbo

Posted: 2:42 am  ET
Updated: 12:08 pm PT
Updated: Feb 14, 2:18 pm PT: Notification reportedly went out o/a 9 pm on Feb 13 that the FSO/FSS March classes are on.

 

On January 23, we blogged about the State Department sending out job offers for an incoming class of foreign service officers and specialists (see @StateDept Sends Out Job Offers to Prospective FSOs For March 6 Class But — Will There Be Jobs?. On February 1, OPM and OMB issued a joint guidance on the Trump EO on the hiring freeze (see OMB/OPM Issues  Additional Guidance for Federal Civilian Hiring Freeze, Jan 31.2017 (Read).

As of February 9, 2017, the same information provided to applicants on February 2 remains the same:

greencheck

The “greencheck” at the state.gov forum also told the prospective employees:

We have not received updated guidance on how the hiring freeze will impact both the Generalist or Specialist March classes at this time. HR is exploring all options regarding the hiring registers and the March classes. Once a decision is finalized, all candidates affected by the freeze will be notified immediately.

We understand that “State still has provided the hundreds of effected candidates and their families with zero information on whether or not the class will take place or when. At this point, a number of candidates have lost their previous jobs and have had to move out of their homes.” Our correspondent, clearly frustrated, has some very strong words:

“The Department needs to start meeting the expectation of accountability that SECSTATE set on his first day on the job, and SECSTATE and senior leadership need to start enforcing those standards. This story of State’s inability/unwillingness to make decision, adjust to fluid circumstances, and communicate to what it purports to be its most valuable resource–it’s people–needs to be told …The careers forum on the state.gov site have plenty of anaecdotal examples of state’s lack of communication and the human impact this is having on people.”

So, we went and look at the forum once more.

One asked, “I haven’t seen anything definitive yet. It’s sure getting late here. Should I let the movers come box up my stuff?”

Another wrote, “I was scheduled for the March FSS class that is pending. I have already given my notice to my command to leave active duty effective Feb 17th. If this hiring freeze affects new DSS SA candidates then I am out of a job.”

Still another, “If I were sitting on the register right now, life would be great … I could extend my orders for another year and defer, but I already have orders to detach from active duty in 2 weeks thinking I was going to finally get my dream job.”

One wrote, “To think that State would just ignore us is completely negligible on their part, especially spending thousands of dollars on clearances….that would be a complete waste of tax payers dollars!  I am military so I know the routine of hurry up and wait, however it easy when one is getting paid to wait while a descion is made vs no income because you quit your job based on an offer from State … those of us who are “in limbo” any news is better than no news.”

Somebody “annoyed” wrote, “Take your time guys. Seriously don’t rush this decision. It’s not like you’ve had weeks let alone months to sort this out. And it’s not like the class is supposed to start in about three weeks. So really, take your time. All the uncertainty and waiting has been really great. Not stressful at all. A few of us are going to be unemployed, and several without housing in a few days, but hey, it’s cool, we can deal with it. It’ll be like camping. In fact, why don’t you make the decision on March 5, so we can really draw this out and enjoy this experience for as long as possible. “

Forum user using “Current FSO” as handle posted: “Whoever is in charge of making this decision owed the March class an answer weeks ago. That person is derelict in his/her duty to provide correct information. People have to uproot entire lives to go to A-100. Disgraceful.”

Here is a post that should be required reading for the State Department leadership:

If State needs more time to ‘explore options’ at least make the decision to delay the classes and let those who received appointment letters know. The Generalist class should have travel authorizations by now. Hundreds of candidates and their family members made the decision to accept appointment offers based on State’s identification of a 6 March start date. It is time for State to show similar decisiveness and commitment. 

Presidential transition, turnover in Management, etc doesn’t absolve State leadership of this responsibility. If the organization takes this long to make a decision on routine hiring, I shudder to think how it handles something like a medical evacuation or ordered departure. 

Of note, this response is not intended to lambast the ‘green check’ who is pasting State’s pro forma response to these queries. I understand they are only passing the limited information they’ve been told to release. This broader forum is oriented to those interested in seeking employment with the Department of State. A quick review of the threads the last two months paints an unimpressive picture of State’s handling of hiring actions, its ability to make decisions in fluid environments, and its interest in communicating substantive information with those effected by State’s indecision.

This could have been avoided had the State Department thought to include a contingency language in the job offer letters it sent out, it did not.

We learned that the State Department in FY2015 hired 290 foreign service officers, and 259 foreign service specialists. The number  of hires reportedly were “at or near” attrition. There is no publicly released number available for FY2016 (email us) but folks are talking about “hundreds” who received invitations to start training next month.

Update: Regarding the “hundreds” above, we understand that the largest Generalist (FSO) classes have never exceeded 100 as the room only fits about 85. The Specialist (FSS) classes are reportedly almost always much smaller. March classes are also typically the smallest of the year.  A State/HR document we’ve seen projected 615 positions for FY16 which includes 97 new positions and 518 projected total attrition (employees lost to retirement, resignation, death). Total hiring for FY17 is projected at 599 with 98 new positions and 501 projected total attrition. 

According to Federal News Radio, the Defense Department already announced “a sweeping set of exceptions to the governmentwide civilian hiring freeze President Donald Trump imposed on Jan. 23, allowing hiring to resume across broad categories of the workforce ranging from cybersecurity specialists to depot maintenance and shipyard personnel.”   The OMB/OPM guidance appears to carve out an exception for positions necessary to “meet national security (including foreign relations) responsibilities” but so far, the State Department has not made any announcement.

In 2009, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported on the challenges that the State Department faced in filling its increasing overseas staffing needs with sufficiently experienced personnel. It also noted that “persistent Foreign Service staffing and experience gaps put diplomatic readiness at risk.”

In the 1990’s, the Foreign Service suffered through a period of hiring below attrition levels. According to Government Executive, from 1994 to 1997, the State Department hired “only enough people to replace half the number it lost to retirement, resignation or death.” That contributed to the staffing and experience gaps in our diplomatic service.  It typically takes about 4 to 5 years for an officer to move through the entry-level grades to a midlevel grade.  To address these gaps, the State Department implemented the “Diplomatic Readiness Initiative,” during Colin Powell’s tenure which resulted in hiring over 1,000 new employees above attrition from 2002 to 2004. However, most of this increase was absorbed by the demand for personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2009, the State Department started Diplomacy 3.0,  under Hillary Clinton’s tenure, another hiring effort to increase its Foreign Service workforce by 25 percent by 2013. Due to emerging budgetary constraints, State anticipated this goal would not be met until 2023 (see Foreign Service Staffing Gaps, and Oh, Diplomacy 3.0 Hiring Initiative to Conclude in FY2023).

How soon before the State Department will be back in the same pickle?

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Related item:

Presidential Memorandum entitled “Hiring Freeze” January 23, 2017

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IRS to Start Certifying Unpaid Taxes of $50K+ in Early 2017 For Revocation/Denial of US Passports

Posted: 1:16 am  ET

 

In December 2015, we reported in this blog  about the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act,” or “FAST Act.” One item included in the FAST Act, which had been signed into law, affects the State Department and the traveling American public. Section 7345 provides for the revocation or denial of U.S. passports to applicants with certain tax delinquencies considered ‘seriously delinquent tax debt’ –that is, a tax liability that has been assessed, which is greater than $50,000 and a notice of lien has been filed. (see New Law Authorizes Revocation or Denial of U.S. Passports to Certain Tax Delinquents).

A recent IRS notice says that the agency has not yet started certifying tax debt to the State Department but that such certifications will begin in early 2017. The website here currently provides information “for informational purposes only” but will be updated to indicate when the process has been implemented. Excerpt:

If you have seriously delinquent tax debt, IRC § 7345 authorizes the IRS to certify that to the State Department. The department generally will not issue or renew a passport to you after receiving certification from the IRS.

Upon receiving certification, the State Department may revoke your passport. If the department decides to revoke it, prior to revocation, the department may limit your passport to return travel to the U.S.

Certification Of Individuals With Seriously Delinquent Tax Debt

Seriously delinquent tax debt is an individual’s unpaid, legally enforceable federal tax debt totaling more than $50,000* (including interest and penalties) for which a:

–Notice of federal tax lien has been filed and all administrative remedies under IRC § 6320 have lapsed or been exhausted or

–Levy has been issued

Some tax debt is not included in determining seriously delinquent tax debt even if it meets the above criteria. It includes tax debt:

–Being paid in a timely manner under  an installment agreement entered into with the IRS

–Being paid in a timely manner under an offer in compromise accepted by the IRS or a settlement agreement entered into with the Justice Department

–For which a collection due process hearing is timely requested in connection with a levy to collect the debt

–For which collection has been suspended because a request for innocent spouse relief under IRC § 6015 has been made

Before denying a passport, the State Department will hold your application for 90 days to allow you to:

–Resolve any erroneous certification issues

–Make full payment of the tax debt

–Enter into a satisfactory payment alternative with the IRS

There is no grace period for resolving the debt before the State Department revokes a passport.

Read more here: https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/revocation-or-denial-of-passport-in-case-of-certain-unpaid-taxes.

Note that the passport denial for individuals who owe more than $2500 in past-due child support, based on a certification by the responsible State child-support agency to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has been challenged and upheld in two cases before Federal courts: Eunique v. Powell, 281 F.3d 940, 2002 (9th Cir. Cal. 2002 – statute does not violate Fifth Amendment freedom to travel internationally); Weinstein v. Albright, 261 F.3d 127; 2001 (2nd Cir. 2001 – statutory and regulatory scheme comports with due process and equal protection).

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Inbox: Another example of top-notch FSI communications strategy?

Posted: 12:57 am  ET

 

We received the following in our inbox on Friday, February 4, 2017:

“Rumor is spreading like wildfire that on Friday afternoon at an administrative staff meeting FSI language school management announced that all language immersion trips planned for this spring would be cancelled. No one has yet bothered to tell the students or teachers who have already purchased non-refundable airline tickets for trips that have been planned and approved by language division supervisors since last year. The cancellations seems to be based on lack of FSI funds to pay per diem to accompanying teachers, but it is not clear whether students will still be permitted to travel on self-directed immersion trips. Some students are frantically trying to get flights and hotels refunded under travel insurance policies, but this is not likely to be a covered circumstance.

Another example of top-notch FSI communications strategy. No one has bothered to tell the affected parties, but half the administrative staff at FSI heard about it.”

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Tom Countryman’s Farewell: A Diplomat’s Love Letter to America

Posted: 2:27  am ET

 

Among the senior officials who were asked to leave the State Department this past week was career diplomat Tom Countryman. Below is the touching and inspiring farewell remarks he delivered (as prepared) at his retirement ceremony.


Thomas Countryman |

January 31, 2017

 

Thank You! When I entered the State Department, I never intended to rise high enough to merit a retirement ceremony.  And when it occurred to me that I had, I pictured instead an off-campus bacchanalia.  But now we’re here, and it is altogether fitting and proper, and I thank you.

Some of you have asked if recent events have left me disgruntled.  The answer is No; I am probably the most gruntled person in the room.

When Ambassador Robert Pelletreau retired 20 years ago, he said “The State Department doesn’t owe me anything.  It has given me everything”.  It is the same for me.  In my very first tour, the Department gave me more than I could ask for in a lifetime.  It sent me to Belgrade, where in 1984 I met my wife, Dubravka Trklja, the greatest thing ever to happen to me.  She reminds me often that she could have had a better husband, but I suspect she feels what I feel so strongly: that I could never have had a better friend.  And as a result, I have something else, the only thing for which you should envy me: Stefan and Andrew, the two best sons and the two most remarkable young men anyone could have.

The Department gave me and my family the opportunity to see the world, and not just as tourists.  It allowed me to see the reunification of families divided by the Iron Curtain, and to see Israelis and Palestinians negotiate face to face.  I saw – and contributed a little to – the restoration of democracy in Serbia.  And for the last few years, it’s given me the chance to speak for the United States about a priority shared by eleven successive Presidents: reducing the risk of a nuclear holocaust.

This career gave me a constant resurgence or energy in the form of bright young officers with brilliant careers ahead of them, people like Rafik Mansour, Patrick Connell, Daniela Helfet, Seth Maddox, Lizzie Martin and David Kim.  It allowed me to work for Ambassadors legendary in the Foreign Service (some of them here today), like David Anderson, Dick Miles, Barbara Bodine, Emil Skodon, Patrick Theros, Skip Gnehm, Frank Wisner, Bob Pelletreau, Marc Grossman and Charlie Ries.  From them I learned the four words central to diplomatic success: “High Road, Hard Ball”.  And it gave me the great honor to stand beside exemplary Secretaries of State like Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.

The Department gave me the chance to be part of, and to lead, amazing interagency teams at Embassies abroad, in the European Bureau and at the White House.  These were great organizations, but it was only when I spent a year and a half in the PM Bureau, and five years in the ISN Bureau, that I came to fully value the true strength of the Department, a Civil Service cadre every bit as talented as the Foreign Service.  It was perhaps my highest honor to learn from, to guide, and to take credit for the accomplishments of the deepest bench of experts in any agency.

The State Department owes me nothing.  But we still owe America a lot.  We still have a duty – you have a duty – to stay and give your best professional guidance, with loyalty, to the new Administration.  Because a foreign policy without professionals is – by definition – an amateur foreign policy.  You will help to frame and make the choices.  

Because that is WHAT we do.

Our work is little understood by our fellow Americans, a fact that is sometimes exploited for political purpose.  When I have the opportunity to speak to audiences across this amazing land, I explain “We do not have a Department of State – we do not have a foreign policy – because we love foreigners.  We do it because we love Americans”.

We want Americans to prosper, to sell the world’s best food and the world’s best products everywhere in the world.  We want Americans to be protected and safe when they are abroad, whether they are missionaries, tourists, students, businessmen or (for those you have done consular work) the occasional false Messiah.

We want Americans to sleep the sleep of the righteous, knowing that the smallest fraction of their tax dollar goes to ease poverty and reduce injustice.  We want them to know that our consular officers are the first of many lines of defense against those who would come to the US with evil purpose.  We want the families of America’s heroes – our servicemen – to know that their loved ones are not put into danger simply because of a failure to pursue non-military solutions.

And we want Americans to know that the torch borne by the Statue of Liberty is not just a magnet for immigrants, it is a projector, shining the promise of democracy around the world.  The United States is the world’s greatest economic power, the world’s greatest military power, and with your vigilance, it always will be.  But the greatest power we project is hope, the promise that people can establish liberty in their own country without leaving it.

I’ve seen it in the country second dearest to my heart: Serbia.  I saw democracy born in Serbia.  I saw it stolen.  I saw – and played a minor role in – its restoration.   And I know this: that if a generation stands up and insists upon defending the rights of the people, they will succeed.  And if the next generation stands up and resists every corrosive attack on democracy, they will triumph.

If we wall ourselves off from the world, we will extinguish Liberty’s projection, as surely as if, as the Gospel says, we hid our lamp under a bushel basket.  If we do not respect other nations and their citizens, we can not demand respect for our citizens.   If our public statements become indistinguishable from disinformation and propaganda, we will lose our credibility.  If we choose to play our cards that way, we will lose that game to the masters in Moscow.  If our interaction with other countries is only a business transaction, rather than a partnership with Allies and friends, we will lose that game too.  China practically invented transactional diplomacy, and if we choose to play their game, Beijing will run the table.

Business made America great, as it always has been, and business leaders are among our most important partners.  But let’s be clear, despite the similarities.  A dog is not a cat.  Baseball is not football.  And diplomacy is not a business.  Human rights are not a business.  And democracy is, most assuredly, not a business.

Each of us came to this work with our identities – more or less – fully formed, and have preserved our values – with greater or lesser success – against the professional deformation caused by any bureaucracy.  Just for myself, I came here with my identity framed: as a Christian, as an Eagle Scout, as a taxpayer.  These didn’t require me to go into the State Department, but they define my obligations as a citizen: to spend tax dollars wisely; to look out for the best interests of the US and its people; to share the best of America with the world; and to be not only optimistic, but also – to use a word so suddenly fallen from favor – altruistic.

I line up with Steven Pinker.  In his book, “The Better Angels of our Nature”, he describes the ‘escalator of reason’: “…an intensifying application of knowledge and rationality to human affairs”.

That is HOW we do it.

“…an intensifying application of knowledge and rationality to human affairs”.

That’s the very definition of the work I’ve been privileged to do, that I will pursue now in different clothes, and that I leave to you.

That’s the sermon, and in a moment I will let you go in peace.  First, I want to thank you for so many messages of support and appreciation.  One of you here compared the situation to the scene in Star Wars, when Obi-Wan Kenobi is struck down, and I found that touching.  Another compared it to the scene when Princess Leia strangles Jabba the Hutt, and I found that confusing.   

The most meaningful came from my son Stefan, a future Nobel laureate in physics, who wrote: “I am proud of your decades of service to this country and the world…You gave everything you could for the people of this world in a slow and painful line of work…You have given more than your share…The values you upheld in your career are part of what makes me who I am.”

And that is WHY we do it.

Even if you don’t have your own children, what you do in this building tomorrow can mean another generation will live in a habitable world, can enjoy peace and liberty. If we are firm in our principles, steadfast in our ideals, and tireless in our determination to uphold our oath – to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic” – then for many generations, another American will stand in this spot with the same satisfaction and hope I feel today.

I leave you with one last thought, from one of my favorite philosophers.  If you’ve never read him, or not for many years, I urge you to take the time now.   His name is: ….Winnie the Pooh.

And he said:

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

Thank You and God Bless You!  

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Trump EO Results in Provisional Revocations of Valid Visas, Chaos For Dual Nationals

Posted: 1:38 am ET

 

On January 27, President Trump signed an executive order suspending the entry of refugees to the United States for FY2017 for 120 days. The E.O also proclaimed the entry of certain aliens as “detrimental to the interests of the United States” and declared the suspension of their entry into the United States for 90 days.  The aliens referred to are from countries cited under Section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C.1187(a)(12) according to the executive order.  These are the same countries cited under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen.

Urgent Notice

The State Department issued an urgent notice on January 27:

Per the Executive Order on Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals signed on January 27, 2017, visa issuance to nationals of the countries of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen has been suspended effective immediately until further notification. If you are a citizen of one of these countries, please do not schedule a visa appointment or pay any visa fees at this time. If you already have an appointment scheduled, please DO NOT ATTEND. You will not be permitted entry to the Embassy/Consulate. We will announce any other changes affecting travelers to the United States as soon as that information is available.

Provisional Revocations

It appears that not only has the U.S. Government suspended the entry and processing of visas for this seven Muslim-majority countries, it also made the State Department “provisionally revoked” (with exceptions) the valid visas issued to citizens from these seven countries. If the travel ban is lifted after 90 days, the rules allow for the reinstatement of visas, presumably with whatever “extreme vetting” the government will have in place by then.

Provisional revocation via the Federal Register:

In cases where the person subject to a provisional revocation is found to be eligible for the visa, the visa will be reinstated with no need for reapplication. However, with the exception of provisional revocations, an applicant whose visa has been revoked must apply for another visa, at which time his or her eligibility for the visa will be adjudicated.

Questions for the State Department

We asked the State Department how the EO affects dual-nationals, green card holders and travelers from these seven countries.  We also asked previously if travelers issued visas on the day the EO was issued now expect that those visas no longer have validity. We wanted to know if consular posts are canceling all visa appointments/refunding all visa application fees from applicants in the affected countries. We requested an estimate of how many applicants were in the pipeline when the ban took effect.

We get to ask our questions but we don’t always get the response we need. For travelers who are nationals/dual-nationals of the seven countries, a State Department official speaking on background offered the following:

Beginning January 27, 2017, travelers who have nationality or dual nationality of one of these countries [Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen] will not be permitted for 90 days to enter the United States or be issued an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa.

Those nationals or dual nationals holding valid immigrant or nonimmigrant visas will not be permitted to enter the United States during this period. Visa interviews will generally not be scheduled for nationals of these countries during this period.

So the suspension affects not only the entry to the U.S. but also the issuance of immigrant (green card) and nonimmigrant (temporary) visas. An SBU cable reportedly went out to all posts last Saturday explaining the executive order.  The State Department official says, “As we would for any operational change, we communicated instructions to our consulates in affected countries and around the world.”

The State Department official cites an exception to the ban on a “case-by-case” basis and when “in the national interest.”

The Department of Homeland Security and Department of State may, on a case-by-case basis, and when in the national interest, issue visas or allow entry to nationals of countries for which visas and entry are otherwise blocked under this Executive Order.

Asked specifically about dual-nationals, the State Department official only notes about dual-national Americans:

This Executive Order should not affect dual-nationality Americans at all. U.S. citizens (although they might also have another nationality) are required to use their U.S. passport when entering and departing the United States. They do not receive visas or enter the U.S. as a foreign national, so this Executive Order does not apply to them.

The EO clearly does not apply to American citizens but it appears to be a different story in our airport terminals:

We also asked the State Department about third country dual nationals with the seven countries, for instance Canadian-Iranians or British-Iraqi citizens.  The State Department directed us to check with Homeland Security. As of this writing, we have not heard a response. Meanwhile, the chaos continue.

Israeli Dual Nationals With Seven Restricted Countries

The US Embassy in Tel Aviv posted the following message which contradicts the information we received from the State Department on dual nationals:

Travelers with an existing valid visa in their Israeli passport may travel to the United States, even if they are also a national of or born in one of the seven restricted countries (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen). Embassy Tel Aviv will continue to process visa applications and issue visas to eligible visa applicants who apply with an Israeli passport, even if born in, or a dual national of, one of the seven restricted countries. Final authorization to enter the United States is always determined at the port of entry.

 

UK Dual Nationals With Seven Restricted Countries

The US Embassy in London said that “Dual nationals of the United Kingdom and one of these countries are exempt from the Executive Order when travelling on a valid United Kingdom passport and U.S. visa.” But the UKFCO has additional guidelines that seems to indicate point of origin as a factor, too, which adds to more confusion:

  • the Presidential executive order only applies to individuals travelling from one of the 7 named countries
  • if you are travelling to the US from anywhere other than one of those countries (for instance, the UK) the executive order does not apply to you and you will experience no extra checks regardless of your nationality or your place of birth
  • if you are a UK national who happens to be travelling from one of those countries to the US, then the order does not apply to you – even if you were born in one of those countries
  • if you are a dual citizen of one of those countries travelling to the US from OUTSIDE those countries then the order does not apply to you
  • The only dual nationals who might have extra checks are those coming from one of the 7 countries themselves – for example a UK-Libya dual national coming from Libya to the US.

Canadian Dual Nationals With Seven Restricted Countries

Media reports citing DHS and the State Department says that dual nationals with the seven countries will be refused entry. This is the same thing we were told.   Meanwhile, the Canadian Ambassador to the US said exactly the opposite. Canadian PM Justin Trudeau on Twitter also release a statement citing confirmation from NSA Mike Flynn that Canadian citizens including dual citizens will not be affected by the ban.

Welcome to big time confusion and chaos!

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Trump EO Also Suspends Visa Interview Waivers – Expect Long Visa Wait Times, Again

Posted: 10:28 am  PT

 

In 2012, then President Obama issued an Executive Order on Establishing Visa and Foreign Visitor Processing Goals and the Task Force on Travel and Competitiveness, which among other things, “ensure that 80 percent of nonimmigrant visa applicants are interviewed within 3 weeks of receipt of application, recognizing that resource and security considerations and the need to ensure provision of consular services to U.S. citizens may dictate specific exceptions”.  The Obama EO directed a plan that “should also identify other appropriate measures that will enhance and expedite travel to and arrival in the United States by foreign nationals, consistent with national security requirements.” In 2012, an Interview Waiver Pilot Program (IWPP) was introduced for for low-risk visa applicants. It became was made permanent in 2014, and became the Visa Interview Waiver Program (VIWP).

According to congressional testimonies, there are 222 visa-issuing embassies and consulates where “highly-trained corps of consular officers and support staff process millions of visa applications each year, facilitating legitimate travel while protecting our borders.”  In FY2015, overseas posts issued over 10.8 million nonimmigrant visas. That number is only a partial picture of the workload as it does not include visa refusals, a number that is significantly higher than visa issuances.

Section 8 of President Trump’s Executive Order: Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States refers to the immediate suspension of visa interview waivers specifically, the VIWP, and imposes a requirement that all nonimmigrant visa applicants, with exceptions, undergo in-person interviews.

Sec . 8 . Visa Interview Security

(a) The Secretary of State shall immediately suspend the Visa Interview Waiver Program and ensure compliance with section 222 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1222, which requires that all individuals seeking a nonimmigrant visa undergo an in-person interview, subject to specific statutory exceptions.

(b)  To the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations, the Secretary of State shall immediately expand the Consular Fellows Program, including by substantially increasing the number of Fellows, lengthening or making permanent the period of service, and making language training at the Foreign Service Institute available to Fellows for assignment to posts outside of their area of core linguistic ability, to ensure that non-immigrant visa-interview wait times are not unduly affected.

We understand that the current Visa Interview Waiver Program (VIWP) was “carefully crafted”, and rolled out in consultation with the Congress. It was designed not/not to go back to pre-911 situation but to facilitate travel in cases of no discernable risk.

Here is what the Consular Affairs bureau told Congress:

Since 9/11, a risk-based approach grounded on greater and more effective domestic and international information sharing has become a key principle of visa processing policy.  This approach enables the United States to channel more resources toward the prevention of high-risk travel while simultaneously increasing the number of legitimate visitors arriving by land, air, and sea.  The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prescreening process for Visa Waiver Program (VWP) travelers, international information sharing arrangements, Global Entry, which expedites the movement of low-risk, frequent travelers who proceed directly to automated kiosks upon arrival in the United States, and interagency counterterrorism and eligibility checks are examples of how U.S. agencies can use information collected from visitors and/or governments in advance of travel to accomplish complimentary and mutually re-enforcing goals of preventing terrorists and serious criminals from traveling to the United States while facilitating the entry of legitimate visitors.

We asked the State Department about the suspension of the VIWP and its impact on visa operations. We were interested in the number of applicants who used the Visa Interview Visa Program for the last fiscal year.  In trying to get a sense of the impact of the new EO on visa operations, we also were interested on number of consular officers in visa sections worldwide.

Our question is in general staffing terms not specific to any posts, nonetheless, a State Department official on background declined to discuss staffing levels or the number of officers working at any embassy or consulate.  However, the SDO  did provided the following information:

The Executive Order suspends previously authorized portions of the Interview Waiver Program. The Interview Waiver Program will continue for certain diplomatic and official visa applicants from foreign governments and international organizations (categories: A-1, A-2, G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1 through -6, C-2 and C-3) applicants under the age of 14, or over the age of 79; and applicants who previously held a visa in the same category that expired less than 12 months prior to the new application. As always, a consular officer must require that any applicant appear for an in-person interview in any situation where information provided on the application or during the screening process indicates any reason for further questioning. All visa applications, including those cases above, for which the visa interview is waived, are subject to the same rigorous security screening.

Previously, applicants renewing their visas in the same category within 48 months of expiration were eligible for their interview to be waived, as were first-time Brazilian and Argentine applicants ages 14-15 and 66-79.

We don’t know what is the current number but in 2013, Brazilian visitors contributed $10.5 billion to the U.S. economy, a 13 percent increase from the prior year.

Background of the Visa Interview Waiver Program (VIWP)

In January 2012, the Department and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiated the two-year Interview Waiver Pilot Program (IWPP) to streamline processing for low-risk visa applicants.  The worldwide pilot program allows consular officers to waive in-person interviews for certain nonimmigrant visa applicants who were previously interviewed and thoroughly screened in conjunction with a prior visa application, and who are renewing a previous visa within four years of its expiration.  The pilot program also allows consular officers to waive interviews for qualified Brazilian applicants falling into specific age ranges, even when applying for visas for the first time.

All IWPP applications are thoroughly reviewed by a commissioned consular officer, with the applicant’s fingerprints, photograph, and biodata undergoing extensive database checks.  Consular officers have been directed to require an interview for any applicant who might otherwise qualify for the IWPP, if the application is not immediately approvable upon paper review, including if database checks reveal potential grounds of inadmissibility or other possible concerns.  State concluded an August 2013 validation study of the IWPP, which showed that B1/B2 visa issuances under the IWPP present no greater risk of overstay than interview-based B1/B2 visa issuances.

In 2013, State/CA’s congressional testimony indicates that “more than 90 percent of applicants worldwide were interviewed within three weeks of submitting their applications.”  This includes key markets such as China where consular officers were able to keep interview wait times to an average of five days while managing an average annual workload increase of 23 percent over the past three years.  In Brazil, consular officers were able to bring down wait times by 98 percent, from a high of 140 days in São Paulo, to just two days in September 2013, while also managing an eleven percent jump in annual workload between 2011 and 2013. These results were partially attributed to the VIWP:

The Department’s success is partially attributable to the introduction of secure, streamlined processes such as the Interview Waiver Pilot Program (IWPP), which allows consular officers to waive in-person interviews for certain nonimmigrant visa applicants who are renewing their visas, and whose biometric data we have on file.  IWPP is operational at more than 90 visa processing posts in more than 50 countries, and consular officers have already waived interviews for more than 500,000 of these low-risk visa applicants.  The pilot has been particularly successful in China, where it constitutes 30 percent of Mission China’s visa renewal workload.  Of course, these applicants are subject to all of the security checks conducted for any interviewed applicant.  State also concluded an August 2013 validation study of the IWPP, which showed that B1/B2 visa issuances under the IWPP present no greater risk of overstay than interview-based B1/B2 visa issuances.

One of the most effective ways we have to improve the efficiency of visa operations is to eliminate in-person interviews for low-risk travelers, while retaining all of the security checks that apply to every visa applicant.  Although the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires our consular officers to interview in-person all visa applicants aged 14 through 79, it also provides limited authority to waive interviews, including authority to waive for diplomatic and official applicants from foreign governments and for some repeat applicants.  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.

Since the VIWP is available in China and India, and many other countries with high visa demand, and includes visitor/business (B1-B2) visas, student (F) visas, and temporary worker’s (H1-B) visas, the workload impact on consular sections will be significant.  As more applicants require interviews, more interview windows will be needed, more consular officers will be needed, and larger facilities would become necessary.

By shutting down the IVWP, the Trump EO immediately expands the number of applicants that require in-person interviews. Section 8 (b) of the Trump EO also “immediately expand” the Consular Fellows Program, while a separate EO imposed a federal hiring freeze. Even if hiring is allowed under the Consular Fellows program, training new limited noncareer employees cannot occur overnight.

According to CA official’s congressional testimony, in 2014, 75 million international visitors traveled to the United States, a seven percent increase over 2013; they spent over $220 billion.  “Tourism is America’s largest services export and one that can’t be outsourced.” See current key numbers on US tourism in infographic below.

In FY 2014, Consular Affairs also generated $3.6 billion in revenue, which supports all consular operations in the Department and provides border security-related funding to some interagency partners. The CA bureau is probably the only fully fee-funded operation in the State Department.  It collects and retains fees for certain visa and passport services pursuant to specific statutory authority.  According to congressional testimony, the current fee statutes allow the bureau to retain approximately 80 percent of the fees it collects, with the balance going to the Treasury, which then help fund 12 other arms of the USG supporting border protection/national security.

 

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Trump Travel Ban: Rudy Tells the “Whole Story”, Plus Reactions and Fall Out

Posted: 2:09 am ET

 

On January 27, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order suspending the entry of refugees to the United States for FY2017 for 120 days. The E.O also proclaimed the entry of certain aliens as “detrimental to the interests of the United States” and declared the suspension of their entry into the United States for 90 days.  The aliens referred to are from countries cited under Section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C.1187(a)(12) according to the executive order.  These are the same countries cited under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen.

We’ve seen folks on social media get confused about this. So let’s try this.  There are 38 countries designated as Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries; citizens or nationals of these 38 countries are currently eligible to travel to the United States without a visa. However, if either of the following is true, travelers will no longer be eligible to travel to the U.S. without a visa. Instead, individuals in the following categories will have to apply for a visa using the regular appointment process at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

  • Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country).
  • Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.

The Trump EO banning entry and issuance of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas for 90 days uses these same seven countries.  Note that citizens from these seven countries have not been banned from visa applications or entry to the United States previously. Citizens from 38 visa waiver countries who previously traveled to these seven Muslim-majority countries were not allowed to use the waiver and must submit for an interview with a consular officer at an embassy or consulate overseas.

Since it appears that DOD Secretary Mattis and DHS Secretary Kelly were out of the loop on this, would it be totally shocking if no input was asked from the State Department? No?  Interagency cooperation is just the White House now? On the day President Trump was preparing to sign this EO, our embassies and consular posts worldwide were still issuing visas;  all official, and valid but no longer acceptable at ports of entry as soon as the executive order took effect.

Here’s Rudddddddy with a backgrounder.

Reaction round-up below:

 

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Recipe For Disaster Transition @StateDept: Situation AltNormal, All Fucked Up

Posted: 12:12 pm PT
Updated: 1:15 pm PT

 

We just posted about the reported mass resignations of senior management officials at the State Department (see Patrick Kennedy, Other Officials Step Down – Yo! That’s Not the “Entire” Senior Management).

The State Department spox released the following statement:

“As is standard with every transition, the outgoing administration, in coordination with the incoming one, requested all politically appointed officers submit letters of resignation. The Department encourages and advocates for senior officers to compete for high level offices in the Department. These positions are political appointments, and require the President to nominate and the Senate to confirm them in these roles. They are not career appointments but of limited term. Of the officers whose resignations were accepted, some will continue in the Foreign Service in other positions, and others will retire by choice or because they have exceeded the time limits of their grade in service. No officer accepts a political appointment with the expectation that it is unlimited. And all officers understand that the President may choose to replace them at any time. These officers have served admirably and well. Their departure offers a moment to consider their accomplishments and thank them for their service.”

The senior management officials reported to be stepping down today are not exactly quitting because U/S Kennedy resigned.  Our understanding is that they are leaving because they, too, got letters telling them to go.

What we know right now is that a good number of senior career official received letters yesterday morning essentially saying, “Thank you for your service.  You’re done as of Friday.”  The letters went to U/S Pat Kennedy, A/S Michelle Bond (CA), Joyce Barr (A), and Gentry Smith (DS M/OFM).  We noted previously that there are 13 offices under the “M” group which includes among other things, housing, medical, logistics, personnel, training, security.  We understand that the only person left in the “M” family in a Senate-confirmed position is DGHR Arnold Chacon.

We can confirm that one career under secretary serving in an acting capacity did not receive a letter or notification to leave.  But letters reportedly also went to others, including an assistant secretary in a geographic  bureau overseeing a most challenging region saying “you’re done, once we nominate your successor.”

Here’s the problem, with the exception of the announced nominations for ambassadors to China and Israel, there are no announced nominees for the State Department in the under secretary or assistant secretary level.  How soon will the replacements come onboard? As soon as the nominees are announced, vetted, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Just to be clear, this is not the case of career employees refusing to continue working with a new administration or quitting public service, or quitting in protest — they were told to leave.

People who got these letters are “resigning.”  A good number of them are also retiring as of the 31st because they can no longer be in the Foreign Service due to mandatory retirement (they’re over 65) or they are subject to time-in-class/time-in-service restrictions.  For those who are not retirement-eligible or subject to TIC/TIS, they’re still in the Senior Foreign Service and could theoretically move into different jobs.

With the exception of the DGHR position, we understand that all Senate-confirmed positions in the “M” family are “unemcumbered” or will soon go vacant. The Trump Transition may not know this, but these positions are the most critical to keeping the Department going.  We understand that these firings cause all sorts of problems because “there are certain authorities that can only be vested in someone who is in a confirmable position.”  For example, whenever “M” is on travel, the role of “Acting M” always defaulted to the Senate confirmed senior official at Diplomatic Security, Administration, or Consular Affairs.

For real life consequences, “M” approves authorized and ordered evacuation requests and authorizes the use of K funds. So better not have an evacuation or embassy shutdown right now because without an “M” successor, even one in an acting capacity, no one has any frakking idea who is responsible.  We are presuming that the Legal Affairs bureau is trying to figure this out right now. That is, if the Legal Advisor is still in place and had not been asked to leave, too.

This need not have to happen this way. The Landing Team get to an agency, and it goes about the job of filling in positions with their selected appointees in an orderly manner. This is not the first transition that the agency has gone through.  We understand from the AP’s Matt Lee that there was only one under secretary position left at State during the Clinton to Bush transition.  But giving career employees, some with 30-40 years of dedicated service to our country a two-day notice to pack-up is not just disgraceful, it is also a recipe for disaster.

Unless somebody with authority steps in now, by Monday, the only person possibly left standing in the 7ht Floor is Ambassador Tom Shannon who is the Acting Secretary of State pending Rex Tillerson’s confirmation.  And when Rex Tillerson, who has never worked for the federal government shows up for his first day at work next week, with very few exception, he may be surrounded with people, who like him will be lost in Foggy Bottom.

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