Court Orders @StateDept to “Undertake Good-Faith Efforts” on Diversity Visa Processing by 9/30/21

 

Via travel.state.gov
On September 9, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia preliminarily enjoined the Department of State from applying the November 2020 prioritization policy guidance to diversity visa (“DV”) 2021 applicants and ordered the Department to undertake good-faith efforts to expeditiously process DV applications (including derivative beneficiaries) by September 30, 2021.  The court stated that the Department may not rely on the November 2020 prioritization guidance to “foreclose or prohibit embassy personnel, consular officers, or any administrative processing center (such as the KCC) from processing, reviewing, or adjudicating a 2021 diversity visa or derivative beneficiary application” and clarified that the order “does not affect the prioritization scheme as to any other visa category or in any other respect.”  The court further explained the order “does not prevent any embassy personnel, consular officer, or administrative processing center from prioritizing the processing, adjudication, or issuance of visas based on resource constraints, limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, or country conditions.”
In accordance with the order, the Department of State has instructed consular sections to make every effort within their discretion and subject to posts’ resource constraints, limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and country conditions to prioritize the scheduling and adjudication of additional DV-2021 cases by September 30, 2021.  It is important to note that the court did not order the Department to “prioritize DV-2021 applications over other visa applications.”  The court also did not order the Department to prioritize the adjudication of DV-2021 applications of plaintiffs who have sued the Department over the DV-2021 applications of non-plaintiffs.  The court further said that posts do not have to “drop everything and process DV-2021 applications.”
In accordance with the requirements in the Immigration and Nationality Act and applicable regulations, DV cases will continue to be processed in rank order as required by law, and applicants must be documentarily qualified, have paid all requisite application fees, be able to obtain the required medical exam by a panel physician, and demonstrate that they are eligible for a visa before visa issuance.  DV-2021 applicants may be issued a visa through the end of the fiscal year, on or before September 30, 2021.
If a consular section has the capacity to schedule your DV-2021 case, you will receive a notification by email to check the Entrant Status Check site.  Many diversity visa processing posts are getting emails directly from diversity visa applicants.  The Department has instructed posts to respond to those general inquiries about the September 9th Order and DV-2021 processing with the following message:  We are aware of the court order dated September 9, 2021 from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia regarding the 2021 diversity visa (“DV”) program.  In accordance with that order, post is making good-faith efforts to expeditiously process DV applications (including derivative beneficiaries) by September 30, 2021.  We will continue to process DV cases in rank order as required by law, subject to our resource constraints, limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and country conditions.  If post has the capacity to schedule your case, you will receive a notification by email to check the Entrant Status Check site.”
See GOH et al v. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE et al

 

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@StateDept Announces Tiered Approach in Immigrant Visa Prioritization

 

Via travel.state.gov:
As noted in our recent visa services operating status update, the Department of State is committed to sharing the current status of our worldwide visa operations.  As part of that effort, we would like to clarify how our embassies and consulates are prioritizing immigrant visa applications, as the Department works to reduce the backlog of such applications resulting from travel restrictions and operational constraints caused by the global COVID pandemic.
The health and safety of our personnel, U.S. citizens seeking assistance abroad, individuals seeking immigration benefits, and local populations is paramount.  Posts that process both immigrant and nonimmigrant visas are prioritizing immigrant visa applications while still providing some nonimmigrant visa services.  However, the volume and type of visa cases each post will process continues to depend on local conditions, including restrictions on movement and gathering imposed by host country governments.  In addition, consistent with U.S. government guidance on safety in the federal workplace, U.S. embassies and consulates have implemented social distancing and other safety measures, which have reduced the number of applicants consular sections are able to process in a single day.  Consular sections will resume providing all routine visa services as it is safe to do so in that particular location.
[…]
Consistent with those objectives, U.S. embassies and consulates are using a tiered approach to triage immigrant visa applications based on the category of immigrant visa as they resume and expand processing.  While our consular sections, where possible, are scheduling some appointments within all four priority tiers every month, the following lists the main categories of immigrant visas in priority order:
      • Tier One: Immediate relative intercountry adoption visas, age-out cases (cases where the applicant will soon no longer qualify due to their age), certain Special Immigrant Visas (SQ and SI for Afghan and Iraqi nationals working with the U.S. government), and emergency cases as determined on a case-by-case basis.
      • Tier Two:  Immediate relative visas; fiancé(e) visas; and returning resident visas
      • Tier Three: Family preference immigrant visas and SE Special Immigrant Visas for certain employees of the U.S. government abroad
      • Tier Four: All other immigrant visas, including employment preference and diversity visas
Many embassies and consulates continue to have a significant backlog of all categories of immigrant visas.  This prioritization plan instructs posts to maximize their limited resources to accommodate as many immediate relative and fiancé(e) cases as possible with a goal of, at a minimum, preventing the backlog from growing in these categories and hopefully reducing it.
Read the full announcement here.
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State/OIG Audits CA’s Official and Diplomatic Passport Records

 

 

Via State/OIG:
(U) Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration Concerns

(U) In September 2020, OIG received a referral from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). According to the referral, in 2019, during an audit of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) passport management and security controls,19 TIGTA requested from CA information associated with diplomatic and official passports issued to IRS employees and appointees for the last 20 years, as of March 31, 2019. Specifically, for each passport issued, TIGTA requested the applicant’s name, passport number, passport type, issuance date, and passport status (e.g., cancelled, lost, or stolen).

(U) According to TIGTA officials, TIGTA received three separate passport datasets from CA. However, TIGTA found that the data provided in each dataset were incomplete. For example, some passport records had blank issuance and expiration date fields. Furthermore, the data identified onlyfive passports that were issued in 2016 and indicated that no passports were issued to IRS employees from 2017 through 2019. However, IRS records indicated that more than 200 official or diplomatic passports were issued to employees between 2016 and 2019. Lastly, one dataset included only Department of Treasury employees and not IRS employees. According to TIGTA officials, CA officials could not explain why the database was providing incomplete data. Based on the missing records and data fields, TIGTA deemed CA’s information as unreliable for use in its audit.
[…]
(U) In response to TIGTA’s concerns about receiving incomplete data from CA, OIG reviewed the  847,880 official and diplomatic passport records provided to OIG by CA and found that none of  the passport records had blank issuance or expiration date fields. Furthermore, the records  showed that CA issued 652 official and diplomatic passports to IRS employees and their family  members from FY 2017 through FY 2019 as opposed to the data provided to TIGTA, which showed that no passports were issued to IRS employees from FY 2017 through FY 2019.

The Special Issuance Agency (SIA) did not review the data!

(U) When asked about TIGTA’s concerns, CA officials stated that CA’s Office of Consular Systems and Technology ran a query in TDIS using sponsor codes28 that are associated with IRS to obtain the data requested by TIGTA. CA’s Office of Legal Affairs and Law Enforcement Liaison and the  Office of Passport Integrity and Internal Controls reviewed the data before the data were  released to TIGTA. SIA did not review the data. If SIA employees had reviewed the data, they  would have recognized that it was incomplete. SIA employees would know, because of  reimbursement data, the number of passports issued to IRS employees. CA officials also stated  that, although there are processes in place for reviewing and clearing data prior to release to Federal customers, there is not a formal written policy or standard operating procedures. CA officials are formalizing procedures to address this deficiency.

(U) CA officials indicated that requests for passport information from other agencies are infrequent—there have been none since TIGTA’s request in 2019. However, it is important that CA have effective internal control activities in place to ensure that quality data are provided to other Government agencies. Internal control is a process effected by an entity’s management that provides reasonable assurance that the objectives of an entity will be achieved.29 Management should establish control activities through policies and procedures to achieve objectives.30 Because CA had not implemented effective internal control activities to ensure that the data provided to TIGTA in response to its request were properly reviewed and validated, it failed to meet its objective of delivering a high level of customer service and earning customer trust, which consequently impacted TIGTA’s ability to conduct an audit of passport management and security at the IRS. Although OIG acknowledges that CA is developing internal control activities and associated procedures to help ensure that the incident with TIGTA is not repeated, OIG is making the following recommendation and will track its implementation through the audit compliance process to confirm that the identified deficiency has been fully addressed.

(U) Prior Office of Inspector General Reports

(U) During this audit, OIG was alerted that a former Department of State employee had  allegedly not surrendered their diplomatic passport upon separation from the Department.  Department employees’ entitlement to an official or diplomatic passport, in most instances,  ends when they separate from the Department, and the passport must be surrendered for  cancellation.

(U) OIG found that CA had not electronically cancelled one of the former employee’s diplomatic  passports. Based on that information, OIG performed additional steps to determine whether CA  had cancelled other diplomatic or official passports once an employee had separated from the  Department of State. OIG found that CA had not electronically cancelled 57 of 134 (43 percent)  passports tested.5 In addition, of these 57 passports, 47 (82 percent) had not expired as of  February 1, 2021, meaning they could still be valid. One reason for the deficiencies identified is  that bureaus and offices did not always maintain proper accountability of passports and could  not confirm whether separating employees had surrendered their passports for cancellation.  OIG made one recommendation that is intended to improve the accountability of official and  diplomatic passports of separating employees. As of June 2021, OIG considers the  recommendation resolved, pending further action.

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

Thank you to over 500 readers and supporters who made our continued operation possible this year. Raising funds for a small outlet that is already open and free for all to read has often been the most challenging part of running  this blog. We are grateful for your continued support and well wishes. Thanks — DS

 

Via DPB July 12, 2021:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Related item:

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

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

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State/OIG: Accountability of Official and Diplomatic Passports Needs Improvement

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State/OIG issued its Management Assistance Report: Accountability of Official and Diplomatic Passports of Separating Employees Needs Improvement this week.
According to the OIG, in December 2020, after it announced an audit of official and diplomatic passport records, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) was alerted that a former Department of State employee, a political appointee, allegedly kept their diplomatic passport after separating from the Department and wanted to use it in their new role with another U.S. Government organization.

Specifically: “A politically appointed Senior Advisor separated from the Department in November 2019. In 2020, President Trump appointed the former advisor to a role with another U.S. government organization. A representative from the new organization contacted the appointee’s former Department bureau because the political appointee was in possession of a diplomatic passport. The representative wanted to know whether the appointee could travel on behalf of the new organization using this diplomatic passport. The representative was informed by a bureau official that the appointee should not use the diplomatic passport.”

Excerpt from the MAR:

(U) During an audit of CA’s official and diplomatic passport records, OIG was alerted that a former Department employee had allegedly not surrendered their diplomatic passport upon separation from the Department and wanted to use it in a new role with another U.S. Government organization.24 According to the FAM, entitlement to an official or diplomatic passport ends when the employee separates from the Department, and the passport must be surrendered for cancellation.25

U) OIG found that the former employee’s diplomatic passport was listed as “issued” in ACRQ and had not been electronically cancelled by SIA. Based on that information, OIG performed additional steps to determine whether SIA had cancelled other employees’ official and diplomatic passports once separated from the Department. Specifically, OIG selected a sample of 134 official and diplomatic passports issued to employees who subsequently separated from the Department between November 2017 and September 2020. OIG found that 57 of 134 (43 percent) passports had not been electronically cancelled by SIA after the employee separated. Moreover, of the 57 that had not been electronically cancelled, 47 (82 percent) of the passports had not expired as of February 1, 2021, meaning they could still be valid.

(U) One reason for the deficiencies identified is that Department bureaus and offices did not always maintain proper accountability of passports and could not confirm whether separating employees had surrendered their passports for cancellation. When an employee’s entitlement to an official or diplomatic passport ends, but the passport is not surrendered or cancelled, the individual could misuse the passport, such as misrepresenting themselves as a representative of the U.S. Government. Doing so is a criminal offense.26

(U) Separated Employees’ Official and Diplomatic Passports

(U) Based upon a Bureau of Global Talent Management list of employees who had separated from the Department between November 2017 and September 2020, OIG identified 4,714 official and diplomatic passports associated with those employees. OIG selected a sample of 134 passports to test. 27 OIG found that 57 of 134 (43 percent) passports had not been electronically cancelled by SIA. In addition, of those 57 passports, 47 (82 percent) had not expired, as of February 1, 2021, meaning they could stil l be valid. 28 For example, one employee separated from the Department in December 2017, but the employee’s diplomatic passport was not scheduled to expire until April 2022- more than 4 years after separating from the Department.

OIG apparently followed up with 3 bureaus and 1 office to determine whether 17 former Department employees had surrendered their passport(s) and whether the bureaus or office had requested that SIA cancel the passports in accordance with the FAM. The follow-up revealed the following:

Two former CA employees:  “OIG identified two former CA employees who had diplomatic passports listed as “issued” in ACRQ. According to CA’s employee check-out list, employees are required to return special-issuance passports to SIA that were issued to them and to their family members upon separation and obtain the signature of an SIA staff member. SIA has no record of either of these two passports being returned for cancellation after the employees separated.”

Two former Office of the Secretary employees: “OIG identified two former Office of the Secretary employees who had diplomatic passports listed as “issued” in ACRQ. These two individuals had four passports issued to them. The Office of the Secretary’s employee check-out form requires departing employees to return their special-issuance passports and have the form initialed by the Office of the Secretary’s budget and travel office staff. An Office of the Secretary official stated that the office would have been in possession of three of the identified passports because the office maintains the diplomatic passports of people who travel with the Secretary of State. Because the three passports could not be found in the office, the official assumed that they were physically cancelled and returned to the individual. The Office of the Secretary could not provide information on the fourth passport. The Office of the Secretary official stated that a memorandum would have accompanied each passport to SIA for cancellation, but copies of the memoranda were not maintained .”(what the what? italics added).

Eleven former DS employees:  “OIG identified 11 former Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) employees who had diplomatic passports listed as “issued” in ACRQ. These 11 individuals had 16 passports issued to them, including 2 that were issued to a former Assistant Secretary. DS’s employee check-out form requires employees to return to the Employee Services Center or contact SIA about special-issuance passports that were issued to them and to their family members upon separation. A DS official stated that the two passports issued to the former Assistant Secretary were collected before he separated from the Department, but DS had not returned them to SIA. The DS official stated that a former employee, who returned as a PSC, claimed to have lost one passport but there was no comment on her second passport and another employee’s passport had been returned to CA. Three former DS employees had returned four passports in total to their DS offices; however, DS could not locate an additional passport for one of these individuals and an additional two passports for another of these individuals. The DS official further stated that DS did not have records for two of the people associated with two passports. DS may have facilitated the issuance of these passports, but they were not DS employees. DS did not provide information on the remaining 2 of 16 passports.”

OIG recommends that the Bureau of Consular Affairs “improve accountability over special-issuance passports by updating the Foreign Affairs Manual and any other relevant policy documents to require that (a) all Department of State bureaus and offices that participate in the Special Issuance Passport Program either (1) physically cancel special-issuance passports (including secondary passports) issued to a separating employee and email the Special Issuance Agency (SIA) a copy of the physically cancelled data page requesting that the passport(s) be electronically cancelled (along with returning the passport to SIA for destruction if not returned to the separating employee) or (2) if appropriate, file the special-issuance passport with SIA and (b) the Special Issuance Agency confirm that all special-issuance passports issued to the separating employee have been included in the cancellation request and electronically cancel all additional passport(s) as appropriate.”
Consular Affairs concurred with the recommendation, stating that it “will propose updates to the FAM and to the Special Issuance Passport Program.”  The bureau will also “update SIA’s cancellation and destruction SOP to confirm that all special-issuance passports issued to a separating employee have been included in the cancellation request and electronically cancel all additional passports as appropriate.”

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

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

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

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

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

You do not qualify for this exception if:

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

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

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

The life of a blog has no certainty. In most cases, a blog has a lifespan better than that of a mayfly. A day. But most blogs do not make it longer than winter bees (six months). We have to-date survived through 26 winter bee seasons! So that’s amazing! Whatever is in the horizon, we are thankful to all of you who made these seasons possible. We are on the last few days of our eight-week annual fundraising. We are grateful to over 400 readers who pitched in since we launched a few weeks ago. If you care what we do here, and you are able to help, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your support.  ❤️❤️❤️ D!

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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