Former US Ambassador to China’s MD House, a Chinese Tycoon and Other Oy! News!

Posted: 2:14 am ET

Gary Locke  was the United States ambassador to China from August 2011 until March 2014. He was the 21st Governor of Washington from 1997 to 2005 and served in the Obama administration as United States Secretary of Commerce from 2009 to 2011.

The Office of the Assistant Legal Adviser for Ethics and Financial Disclosure (L/EFD) “advises the Department and its employees on ethics laws and regulations applicable to Executive branch employees. These rules govern, inter alia, employee acceptance of gifts, participation in outside activities, avoidance of conflicts of interest, avoidance of appearance of partiality, and seeking and post-government employment.” L/EFD also manage the Department’s financial disclosure reporting program, including review and certification of the reports for Presidential Appointees and other OGE-278 and OGE-450 filers.

Via The Intercept:

Locke purchased the home, which has six bedrooms and five bathrooms, for $1,525,000 in 2009. The house went on the market June 20, 2013, and was initially listed for $1.75 million. By August, the house was marked down to $1.68 million, the price the Chen family paid in September. Zillow now estimates the home value at about $1.8 million.

Locke’s ethics statement for that year discloses that he sold his home in Bethesda but lists the transaction under “rents and royalties” rather than capital gains. He disclosed earning between $50,000 to $100,000 from the sale, though the Chen family paid $150,000 more than the price Locke paid in 2009.

Asked if the State Department reviewed the transaction, a spokesperson for the agency told us that “there is no requirement for any State Department official to clear the sale of his or her personal residence with ethics officials at the department, regardless of the value of the property. The department does not review or approve the terms of sale for an employee’s private residence.”

The sale nonetheless raised concerns among ethics experts.

“This is not appropriate,” said Richard Painter, a former White House chief ethics counsel from 2005 to 2007. “If I were the State Department’s legal adviser, I would be very unhappy with ambassadors selling their houses to foreign nationals of the country where they’re working without an independent appraisal to prove actual value.”

Craig Holman, the government ethics watchdog with Public Citizen, said the sale raised a number of flags. Locke, Holman said, was in a position to influence American policy decisions and needed to “steer clear of placing himself in a conflict of interest situation in which financial opportunities could be perceived as influencing his judgment.”

Locke’s financial disclosure statement, filed in 2009 for his Senate confirmation hearing to become secretary of commerce, reveals that he provided legal assistance to APIC prior to being nominated. In 2008, he provided legal consulting services to APIC and appeared at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for an APIC-owned biofuels refinery in Shantou, a city in southern China. The facility imports soybeans from the U.S. and Latin America.

Since retiring from public office in 2014, Locke is again serving as an adviser to the firm.

#

USCG Shanghai Hanscom Smith Marries Taiwanese Partner Eric Lu

Posted: 1:46 am PT
Updated: 5:06 pm PT

 

According to USCG Shanghai, Hansom “Hanscom” Smith, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, has been Consul General at the United States Consulate General in Shanghai since September 2014. He previously served at the United States embassies in Yaounde, Copenhagen, Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Kabul, and Beijing. In addition, Mr. Smith has served in the Office of Japanese Affairs at the Department of State, and was team leader at the United States Provincial Reconstruction Team in Muthanna Province, Iraq. He has also worked at the American Institute in Taiwan. Mr. Smith holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and master’s degrees from the London School of Economics and Princeton University. His foreign languages are French, Danish, Khmer, and Mandarin Chinese.  CG Smith married his Taiwanese partner, Lü Yingzong (Eric Lu) in San Francisco.

 

#

 

Fake University Sting Nets 21Alleged #Visa Fraudsters and 1,076 Foreign Individuals in “Pay to Stay” Scheme

Posted: 2:14 am ET

 

The State Department issued 278,992 F-1 visas to students from China and 77,375 F-1 visas to students from India in FY2015 alone.  It’s a good thing that DHS is going after visa brokers, recruiters, and employers who allegedly conspired with more than 1,000 foreign nationals in a “pay to stay” scheme that circumvents U.S. immigration laws but — we suspect that this is a tiny drop in a bucket.

Via USDOJ:

21 Defendants Charged With Fraudulently Enabling Hundreds Of Foreign Nationals To Remain In The United States Through Fake ‘Pay To Stay’ New Jersey College

“College” created as part of Homeland Security Investigations sting operation 

NEWARK, N.J. – Twenty-one brokers, recruiters, and employers from across the United States who allegedly conspired with more than 1,000 foreign nationals to fraudulently maintain student visas and obtain foreign worker visas through a “pay to stay” New Jersey college were arrested this morning by federal agents, New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

The defendants (see chart below) were arrested in New Jersey and Washington by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and charged in 14 complaints with conspiracy to commit visa fraud, conspiracy to harbor aliens for profit, and other offenses. All the defendants, with the exception of Yanjun Lin, will appear today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven C. Mannion in Newark federal court.  Lin will appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen L. Strombom in the Western District of Washington federal court.

“‘Pay to Stay’ schemes not only damage our perception of legitimate student and foreign worker visa programs, they also pose a very real threat to national security,” U.S. Attorney Fishman said. “Today’s arrests, which were made possible by the great undercover work of our law enforcement partners, stopped 21 brokers, recruiters and employers across multiple states who recklessly exploited our immigration system for financial gain.”

“While the United States fully supports international education, we will vigorously investigate those who seek to exploit the U.S. immigration system,” said ICE Director Sarah R. Saldaña. “As a result of this operation, HSI special agents have successfully identified and shut down multiple operations which have abused the student visa program.”

“Individuals engaged in schemes that would undermine the remarkable educational opportunities afforded to international students represent an affront to those who play by the rules. These unscrupulous individuals undermine the integrity of the immigration system,” said ICE Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Terence S. Opiola. “Our special agents are committed to addressing, identifying fraud in order to better protect the system as a whole.”

According to the complaints unsealed today and statements made in court:

The defendants, many of whom operated recruiting companies for purported international students, were arrested for their involvement in an alleged scheme to enroll foreign nationals as students in the University of Northern New Jersey, a purported for-profit college located in Cranford, New Jersey (UNNJ). Unbeknownst to the defendants and the foreign nationals they conspired with, however, the UNNJ was created in September 2013 by HSI federal agents.

Through the UNNJ, undercover HSI agents investigated criminal activities associated with the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), including, but not limited to, student visa fraud and the harboring of aliens for profit.  The UNNJ was not staffed with instructors or educators, had no curriculum, and conducted no actual classes or education activities. The UNNJ operated solely as a storefront location with small offices staffed by federal agents posing as school administrators.

UNNJ represented itself as a school that, among other things, was authorized to issue a document known as a “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status – for Academic and Language Students,” commonly referred to as a Form I-20.  This document, which certifies that a foreign national has been accepted to a school and would be a full-time student, typically enables legitimate foreign students to obtain an F-1 student visa.  The F-1 student visa allows a foreign student to enter and/or remain in the United States while the student makes normal progress toward the completion of a full course of study in an SEVP accredited institution.

During the investigation, HSI special agents identified hundreds of foreign nationals, primarily from China and India, who previously entered the U.S. on F-1 non-immigrant student visas to attend other SEVP- accredited schools.  Through various recruiting companies and business entities located in New Jersey, California, Illinois, New York, and Virginia, the defendants then enabled approximately 1,076 of these foreign individuals – all of whom were willing participants in the scheme – to fraudulently maintain their nonimmigrant status in the U.S. on the false pretense that they continued to participate in full courses of study at the UNNJ.

Acting as recruiters, the defendants solicited the involvement of UNNJ administrators to participate in the scheme. During the course of their dealings with undercover agents, the defendants fully acknowledged that none of their foreign national clients would attend any actual courses, earn actual credits, or make academic progress toward an actual degree in a particular field of study.  Rather, the defendants facilitated the enrollment of their foreign national clients in UNNJ to fraudulently maintain student visa status, in exchange for kickbacks, or “commissions.”  The defendants also facilitated the creation of hundreds of false student records, including transcripts, attendance records, and diplomas, which were purchased by their foreign national conspirators for the purpose of deceiving immigration authorities.

In other instances, the defendants used UNNJ to fraudulently obtain work authorization and work visas for hundreds of their clients.  By obtaining this authorization, a number of defendants were able to outsource their foreign national clients as full-time employees with numerous U.S.-based corporations, also in exchange for commission fees.  Other defendants devised phony IT projects that were purportedly to occur at the school.  These defendants then created and caused to be created false contracts, employment verification letters, transcripts, and other documents.  The defendants then paid the undercover agents thousands of dollars to put the school’s letterhead on the sham documents, to sign the documents as school administrators, and to otherwise go along with the scheme.

All of these bogus documents created the illusion that prospective foreign workers would be working at the school in some IT capacity or project.  The defendants then used these fictitious documents fraudulently to obtain labor certifications issued by the U.S. Secretary of Labor and then ultimately to petition the U.S. government to obtain H1-B visas for non-immigrants.  These fictitious documents were then submitted to the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS).  In the vast majority of circumstances, the foreign worker visas were not issued because USCIS was advised of the ongoing undercover operation.

In addition, starting today, HSI Newark is coordinating with the ICE Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit (CTCEU) and the SEVP to terminate the nonimmigrant student status for the foreign nationals associated with UNNJ, and if applicable, administratively arrest and place them into removal proceedings.

The chart below outlines the charges for each defendant. The charges of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and making a false statement each carry a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The charges of conspiracy to harbor aliens for profit and H1-B Visa fraud each carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and $250,000 fine.

The charges and allegations contained in the complaints are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, under the leadership of Director Sarah R. Saldaña; HSI Newark, under the leadership of Special Agent in Charge Terence S. Opiola; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit, under the leadership of Unit Chief Robert Soria;  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Fraud Detection and National Security Section, under the leadership of Associate Director Matthew Emrich; the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, under the leadership of Deputy Assistant Director Louis M. Farrell; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Vermont Service Center, Security Fraud Division, under the leadership of Associate Center Director Bradley J. Brouillette; U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Fraud Prevention Programs, under the leadership of Director Josh Glazeroff; and the FBI, Joint Terrorism Task Force, under the leadership of Timothy Gallagher in Newark, for their contributions to the investigation.

He also thanked the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), under the leadership of Executive Director Michale S. McComis, and the N.J. Office of Higher Education, under the leadership of Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle R. Hendricks, for their assistance. In addition, U.S. Attorney Fishman thanked the N.J. Motor Vehicle Commission and the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Central District of California, Eastern District of New York, Eastern District of Virginia, Southern District of New York, Central District of Illinois, Peoria Division, and the Northern District of Georgia for their help.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis C. Carletta of the U.S. Attorney’s Office National Security Unit, and Sarah Devlin of the Office’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Unit.

Click here for the list of defendants.

 

#

 

Nonimmigrant Visas: 2014 Data Kills 2020 NIV Application Projections Made in 2005

Posted: 3:05 am EDT

 

Via GAO:

According to State’s projections, NIV [nonimmigrant visa] applications from the East Asia and Pacific region and the South and Central Asia region, will increase by about 98 and 91 percent, respectively, from fiscal year 2014 to fiscal year 2019. The Western Hemisphere region is expected to receive approximately 6.9 million applicants by fiscal year 2019, an increase of approximately 30 percent from fiscal year 2014.

Screen Shot

State has underestimated growth in NIV demand in past projections. In 2005, State contracted with an independent consulting firm to project growth in NIV applicant volume through 2020. As of 2014, 13 of the 18 countries included in this study had exceeded their 2014 NIV demand projections. The study also underestimated the sharp escalation of NIV demand in Brazil and China. By 2014, Brazil’s demand had already exceeded the study’s projection for NIV applicants in 2020 by over 104 percent, and in the same year, China’s demand was over 57 percent higher than the study’s 2020 projection for it. These increases in demand resulted in longer NIV interview wait times between 2006 and 2011 in Brazil and China. As we have previously reported, increases in NIV demand have historically impacted State’s ability to efficiently process visas.

Expected increases in NIV demand are further complicated by State’s current NIV process, including proposed staffing levels that are not anticipated to rise significantly through fiscal year 2016. Consular officers in 8 of the 11 focus groups and consular management officials at posts in Beijing, Mexico City, and New Delhi told us that current efforts to reduce NIV interview wait times are not sustainable if demand for NIVs continues to increase at expected rates. A consular management official at one post noted that efforts such as staff increases have been a “temporary fix” but are not a long-term solution to their high volume of NIV applicants. Staffing levels cannot be increased indefinitely due to factors such as hiring restrictions, staffing limitations established by host governments, and physical workspace constraints. For example, according to State officials, State is currently hiring to meet vacancies caused by attrition and is expected to increase the number of consular officers by only 57 in fiscal year 2015, a 3 percent increase, and not increase consular officers in fiscal year 2016. State officials told us that they do not expect significant increases in staffing levels beyond 2016. According to State officials, staffing limitations established by host governments are also a barrier to State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs’ staffing efforts. For example, the Indian government has currently restricted the number of staff the United States can employ at consulates and embassies. Physical capacity limitations, such as insufficient interview windows for visa adjudication, are also a concern for efforts to increase staffing.

Asset Freeze Against Former Monk Accused of Defrauding Chinese Investors Highlights EB-5 Visa Program

Posted: 12:38 am EDT

 

Via Securities and Exchange Commission:

Washington D.C., Aug. 25, 2015 —The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced an asset freeze obtained against a man in Bellevue, Wash., accused of defrauding Chinese investors seeking U.S. residency through the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Pilot Program by investing in his companies.

The SEC alleges that Lobsang Dargey and his “Path America” companies have raised at least $125 million for two real estate projects: a skyscraper in downtown Seattle and a mixed-use commercial and residential development containing a farmers’ market in Everett, Wash.  But Dargey diverted $14 million for unrelated real estate projects and $3 million for personal use including the purchase of his $2.5 million home and cash withdrawals at casinos.

“We allege that Dargey promised investors their money would be used to develop specific real estate projects approved under the EB-5 program, but he misused millions of dollars to enrich himself and jeopardized investors’ prospects for U.S. residency,” said Jina L. Choi, Director of the SEC’s San Francisco Regional Office.

According to the SEC’s complaint filed yesterday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington:

  • Under the EB-5 program, foreign citizens may qualify for U.S. residency if they make a qualified investment of at least $500,000 in a specified project that creates or preserves at least 10 jobs for U.S. workers.
  • Dargey and his companies obtained investments from 250 Chinese investors under the auspices of the EB-5 program.  Path America SnoCo and Path America KingCo operated as regional centers through which EB-5 investments could be made.
  • Dargey told U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and EB-5 investors that he would use investor money only for the Seattle skyscraper and Everett, Wash., projects.
  • Dargey and his companies misled investors about their ability to obtain permanent residency by investing in the Path America projects.  For example, Dargey knew that USCIS can deny investors’ residency applications if investor money is used for a project that materially departs from the approved business plan presented to USCIS.  Dargey failed to tell investors that he and his companies had departed from the business plan by using investor money for personal expenses and unrelated projects.

Late yesterday, the court granted the SEC’s request for an asset freeze and issued an order restraining Dargey and his companies from soliciting additional investors.  The SEC also was granted an order expediting discovery, prohibiting the destruction of documents, and requiring Dargey to repatriate funds he transferred to overseas bank accounts.

The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Brent Smyth and Michael Foley of the San Francisco office and supervised by Steven Buchholz.  The SEC’s litigation will be led by Mr. Smyth and Susan LaMarca.  The SEC appreciates the assistance of the USCIS.

According to the Seattle Times, citing a civil fraud suit filed Monday by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Dargey, a former monk, allegedly diverted millions to spend on a $2.5 million home, other real-estate investments and gambling at 14 casinos across the West. The report notes that the EB-5 visa program allows wealthy foreigners to invest at least $500,000 in a commercial enterprise that creates at least 10 full-time jobs, in exchange for a permanent-residency visa or green card. China dominates the list of countries from which immigrant investors hail.

Department of Homeland Security’s USCIS administers the Immigrant Investor Program, also known as “EB-5,” created by Congress in 1990 to stimulate the U.S. economy through job creation and capital investment by foreign investors. Under a pilot immigration program first enacted in 1992 and regularly reauthorized since, certain EB-5 visas also are set aside for investors in Regional Centers designated by USCIS based on proposals for promoting economic growth. As of August 3, 2015, USCIS had approved approximately 697 regional centers. Regional centers can operate in multiple states.

In its adjudication policy memorandum dated May 30, 2013, USCIS writes on how adjudication of EB-5 petitions and applications must only adhere to the “Preponderance of the Evidence Standard“:

As a preliminary matter, it is critical that our adjudication of EB-5 petitions and applications adhere to the correct standard of proof. In the EB-5 program, the petitioner or applicant must establish each element by a preponderance of the evidence. See Matter of Chawathe, 25 I&N Dec. 369, 375-376 (AAO 2010). That means that the petitioner or applicant must show that what he or she claims is more likely so than not so. This is a lower standard of proof than both the standard of “clear and convincing,” and the standard “beyond a reasonable doubt” that typically applies to criminal cases. The petitioner or applicant does not need to remove all doubt from our adjudication. Even if an adjudicator has some doubt as to the truth, if the petitioner or applicant submits relevant, probative, and credible evidence that leads to the conclusion that the claim is “more likely than not” or “probably true”, the petitioner or applicant has satisfied the standard of proof.

#

Related posts:

 

Related items:

OPM Hack Compromises Federal Employee Records, Not Just PII But Security Clearance Info

Posted: 3:39 am EDT

 

On June 4, WaPo reported that hackers working for the Chinese state breached the computer system of the Office of Personnel Management in December, and that the agency will notify about 4 million current and former federal employees that their personal data may have been compromised.

We should note that OPM’s Federal Investigative Services (OPM-FIS) oversees approximately 90% of all background investigations.

Reuters reported on June 6 that most of the State Department employees had not been exposed to the breach because their data was not housed on the hacked OPM systems. Apparently, only those who had previously been employed by another federal agency may have been exposed, it said. Did you get the notice on the data breach?

It appears, however, that OPM has a requirement that all candidates being offered positions of employment at U.S. government agencies or departments, including at the State Department, are to complete their Questionnaires for National Security Positions (SF-86) on-line via the electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing (e-QIP). We don’t know what happens to those completed questionnaires after they are submitted to OPM; are they transferred to the State Department and deleted from OPM servers?

OPM released the following statement:

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has identified a cybersecurity incident potentially affecting personnel data for current and former federal employees, including personally identifiable information (PII).

Within the last year, the OPM has undertaken an aggressive effort to update its cybersecurity posture, adding numerous tools and capabilities to its networks.  As a result, in April 2015, OPM detected a cyber-intrusion affecting its information technology (IT) systems and data. The intrusion predated the adoption of the tougher security controls.

OPM has partnered with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to determine the full impact to Federal personnel. OPM continues to improve security for the sensitive information it manages and evaluates its IT security protocols on a continuous basis to protect sensitive data to the greatest extent possible. Since the intrusion, OPM has instituted additional network security precautions, including: restricting remote access for network administrators and restricting network administration functions remotely; a review of all connections to ensure that only legitimate business connections have access to the internet; and deploying anti-malware software across the environment to protect and prevent the deployment or execution of tools that could compromise the network.

As a result of the incident, OPM will send notifications to approximately 4 million individuals whose PII may have been compromised.  Since the investigation is on-going, additional PII exposures may come to light; in that case, OPM will conduct additional notifications as necessary.  In order to mitigate the risk of fraud and identity theft, OPM is offering credit report access, credit monitoring and identify theft insurance and recovery services to potentially affected individuals through CSID®, a company that specializes in these services.  This comprehensive, 18-month membership includes credit monitoring and $1 million in identity theft protection services at no cost to enrollees.

“Protecting our Federal employee data from malicious cyber incidents is of the highest priority at OPM,” said OPM Director Katherine Archuleta. “We take very seriously our responsibility to secure the information stored in our systems, and in coordination with our agency partners, our experienced team is constantly identifying opportunities to further protect the data with which we are entrusted.”

OPM has issued the following guidance to affected individuals:

•Monitor financial account statements and immediately report any suspicious or unusual activity to financial institutions.

•Request a free credit report at http://www.AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228.  Consumers are entitled by law to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus – Equifax®, Experian®, and TransUnion® – for a total of three reports every year.  Contact information for the credit bureaus can be found on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website, http://www.ftc.gov.

•Review resources provided on the FTC identity theft website, http://www.identitytheft.gov.  The FTC maintains a variety of consumer publications providing comprehensive information on computer intrusions and identity theft.

•You may place a fraud alert on your credit file to let creditors know to contact you before opening a new account in your name.  Simply call TransUnion® at 1-800-680-7289 to place this alert.  TransUnion® will then notify the other two credit bureaus on your behalf.

How to avoid being a victim:

•Be suspicious of unsolicited phone calls, visits, or email messages from individuals asking about employees or other internal information.  If an unknown individual claims to be from a legitimate organization, try to verify his or her identity directly with the company.

•Do not provide personal information or information about your organization, including its structure or networks, unless you are certain of a person’s authority to have the information.

•Do not reveal personal or financial information in email, and do not respond to email solicitations for this information. This includes following links sent in email.

•Do not send sensitive information over the Internet before checking a website’s security (for more information, see Protecting Your Privacy, http://www.us-cert.gov/ncas/tips/ST04-013).

•Pay attention to the URL of a website.  Malicious websites may look identical to a legitimate site, but the URL may use a variation in spelling or a different domain (e.g., .com vs. .net).

•If you are unsure whether an email request is legitimate, try to verify it by contacting the company directly.  Do not use contact information provided on a website connected to the request; instead, check previous statements for contact information.  Information about known phishing attacks is also available online from groups such as the Anti-Phishing Working Group (http://www.antiphishing.org).

•Install and maintain anti-virus software, firewalls, and email filters to reduce some of this traffic (for more information, see Understanding Firewalls, http://www.us-cert.gov/ncas/tips/ST04-004; Understanding Anti-Virus Software, http://www.us-cert.gov/ncas/tips/ST04-005; and Reducing Spam, http://www.us-cert.gov/ncas/tips/ST04-007).

•Take advantage of any anti-phishing features offered by your email client and web browser.

•Employees should take steps to monitor their personally identifiable information and report any suspected instances of identity theft to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

Potentially affected individuals can obtain additional information about the steps they can take to avoid identity theft from the following agencies. The FTC also encourages those who discover that their information has been misused to file a complaint with them.

More:
.

.

.

.

#

State Department Deputy Secretary Tony Blinken Meets With Junior Diplomats

Posted: 12:26 am EDT

In London

Deputy Secretary of State Antony “Tony” Blinken meets with junior officers at the U.S. Embassy in London, United Kingdom, on March 4, 2015. To the left of the Deputy Secretary is Embassy London’s Deputy Chief of Mission Elizabeth Dibble. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

16095185163_d56195b2f4_z

In Paris

Deputy Secretary of State Antony “Tony” Blinken speaks with junior officers at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France, on March 2, 2015. Also pictured to the left of the Deputy Secretary is Embassy Paris Deputy Chief of Mission Uzra Zeya. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

16076796923_f9c74f79ae_z

In Seoul

Deputy Secretary of State Antony “Tony” Blinken, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Mark Lippert, and Special Representative for North Korea Policy Sung Kim meet with junior officers at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, on February 9, 2015. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

16482520712_17cd1e2288_z

 

In Beijing

 

In Foggy Bottom

.

#

The State Dept’s Most Expensive Assignments in the World (February 2015)

Posted: 11:31 EST
Updated: 21:57 PST

 

The “cost-of-living” allowance or COLA is officially called “post allowance” in the State Department.  It is an allowance based on a percentage of “spendable income,” i.e. money you can really put your hands on to spend on goods and services.  The allowance is calculated by comparing costs for goods and services in multiple categories – including food (consumed at home or in restaurants), tobacco/alcohol, clothing, personal care items, furnishings, household goods, medical services, recreation, public transportation, or vehicle-related expenses – to the cost of those same goods and services in Washington, D.C.

The State Department’s Office of Allowances determines a ratio between the average cost of goods and services at the foreign post to costs in Washington, D.C.  It then evaluate expenditure patterns between the foreign location and Washington, D.C. to establish an overall cost index, which may be adjusted biweekly for exchange rate fluctuations.  If the overall cost of goods and services at a foreign post, taking into account expenditure patterns, is at least 3% above the cost of the same goods and services in the Washington, D.C. area, the office  establish a post allowance. See DSSR section 220 for more information.

According to state.gov, this allowance is a balancing factor designed to permit employees to spend the same portion of their basic compensation for current living as they would in Washington, D.C., without incurring a reduction in their standard of living because of higher costs of goods and services at the post.  The amount varies depending on salary level and family size.

We put together a list of countries and posts with the highest State Department COLA rate as of January 2015. Posts in Europe (EUR), Africa (AF), East Asia Pacific (EAP) and the Western Hemisphere (WHA) are represented.  No posts from South Central Asia (SCA) and Near East Asia (NEA) made it to this top list.  The traditionally expected expensive posts like Tokyo, Vienna, Hong Kong, Sydney and Rome are all in the 35% COLA rate and are not included in this list (we chopped the list at 42%; representative posts in France at the 42% rate are included).

Note that we added a couple of columns for the cost of a McDonald’s meal (or equivalent) and cost of a regular cappuccino from numbeo.com, a crowdsourcing site for cost of goods and services around the world. For another snapshot  on most expensive cities for expat employees, click here with data from the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Worldwide Cost of Living ranking (costs compared to NYC) and Mercer’s Cost of Living surveys from 2014.

DOS | Most Expensive Assignments in the World (February 8, 2015)

DOS | Most Expensive Assignments in the World (February 8, 2015)

 

 Update:
Corrected the spelling for Ediburgh. Also the Allowances Bi-Weekly Updates dated February 8, 2015 indicate several changes on the COLA table, so we updated it to reflect that newest data. Switzerland went from 90% to 100% in this latest update. Shanghai, Copenhagen, Auckland and Wellington went from 50% to 42% COLA posts.  Helsinki, Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Versailles and Oslo were all downgraded from 42% to 35%, so we took them off this table. It is conceivable that the rankings in allowances will change again in a couple of weeks or in a few months.  The bi-weekly updates are located here.  The original list we did based on end of January data is located here.

 

 * * *

Burn Bag: What’s ‘off the record’ about Assignment China?

 

“Why are we still downplaying the enormous health impact to officers and their families serving in China? Why are State MED officers saying ‘off the record’ that it is irresponsible to send anyone with children to China and yet no one will speak up via official channels?

Hello AFSA …. EAP …. HR… Anyone? And the band played on …. ”

 

 

Congressional Service Reports and Briefs — September 2014

— Domani Spero

 

Note that most of the docs below via state.gov are in pdf format:

-09/25/14   The United Arab Emirates (UAE): Issues for U.S. Policy  [440 Kb]
-09/24/14   Japan – U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress  [716 Kb]
-09/24/14   The “Khorasan Group” in Syria – CRS Insights  [55 Kb]
-09/24/14   Unaccompanied Alien Children: Demographics in Brief  [307 Kb]
-09/22/14   Climate Summit 2014: Warm-Up for 2015 – CRS Insights  [60 Kb]
-09/19/14   American Foreign Fighters and the Islamic State: Broad Challenges for Federal Law Enforcement – CRS Insights  [57 Kb]
-09/18/14   Energy Policy: 113th Congress Issues  [242 Kb]
-09/18/14   Russia’s Compliance with the INF Treaty – CRS Insights  [55 Kb]
-09/17/14   Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance  [670 Kb]
-09/17/14   Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response  [880 Kb]
-09/16/14   Proposed Train and Equip Authorities for Syria: In Brief  [288 Kb]
-09/16/14   The U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA): Provisions and Implementation  [589 Kb]
-09/15/14   Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2014  [484 Kb]
-09/15/14   Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights  [499 Kb]
-09/15/14   Man Without a Country? Expatriation of U.S. Citizen “Foreign Fighters”  [58 Kb]
-09/12/14   Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Programs  [340 Kb]
-09/10/14   Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response  [647 Kb]
-09/10/14   Diplomatic and Embassy Security Funding Before and After the Benghazi Attacks [413 Kb]
-09/10/14   The “Islamic State” Crisis and U.S. Policy  [562 Kb]
-09/10/14   U.S. Foreign Assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean: Recent Trends and FY2015 Appropriations  [368 Kb]
-09/09/14   Considerations for Possible Authorization for Use of Military Force Against the Islamic State – CRS Insights  [56 Kb]
-09/09/14   U.S. Military Action Against the Islamic State: Answers to Frequently Asked Legal Questions  [355 Kb]
-09/08/14   Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response  [633 Kb]
-09/08/14   Libya: Transition and U.S. Policy  [737 Kb]
-09/05/14   China’s Leaders Quash Hong Kong’s Hopes for Democratic Election Reforms – CRS Insights  [57 Kb]
-09/05/14   Defense Surplus Equipment Disposal, Including the Law Enforcement 1033 Program [272 Kb]
-09/05/14   Protection of Trade Secrets: Overview of Current Law and Legislation  [433 Kb]
-09/05/14   U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues  [512 Kb]
-09/04/14   Ukraine: Current Issues and U.S. Policy  [365 Kb]
-09/03/14   Pakistan Political Unrest: In Brief  [250 Kb]

 

* * *