@StateDept Issues Guidance For Gender Change in U.S. Passports

Posted: 12:03 pm ET

 

We’ve seen reports about the revocation of U.S. passports of at least two transwomen. Revocation typically means the bearer of the passport is not a U.S. national, and that is permanent. Denial of passport applications on the other hand could mean new/additional documents are required before adjudication of the application is completed.  In any case, we’ve asked the State Department for comment about this news and we received the following response from an official, on background:

We have seen reports of a few transgender individuals having difficulty renewing their passports. The Department has not changed policy or practice regarding the adjudication of passport applications for transgender individuals.  While we cannot comment on individual passport applications due to privacy concerns, the Department addresses cases individually, and strives to treat all applicants with dignity and respect. We have provided passport services to transgender individuals for many years, and have extensive instructions for such applications on our website. We cannot comment on individual cases, but are not aware of any revocations of passports for transgender individuals.

The State Department’s travel.state.gov page has a webpage for gender designation change here.

On June 27, 2018, the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA/PPT/S/A) did issue a policy guidance on Gender Change that appears new with no superseding guidance as best we could tell. They are now now incorporated in the Foreign Affairs Manual under 8 FAM 403.3. So we asked the State Department if this is new guidance and we were told the following:

The Department has not changed policy or practice regarding the adjudication of passport applications for transgender individuals.  The Department’s policy guidelines were introduced on June 10, 2010. Since that point, medical certification of final gender reassignment surgery was no longer a requirement for issuance of a passport in the changed gender. Certification from an attending medical physician stating that the applicant has undergone appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition is acceptable. If CA receives an appropriate certification that transition is complete from a licensed physician, a full-validity passport will be issued.

Per 8 FAM 403.3 dated June 27, 2017 note the following:

a. This subchapter provides policy and procedures that passport specialists and consular officers (“you”) must follow when an applicant indicates a gender on the “sex” line on the passport application with information different from the one reflected on some or all of the submitted citizenship and/or identity evidence, including a prior passport.

b. This policy explains the need for medical certification from a licensed physician who has treated the applicant or reviewed and evaluated the medical history of the applicant regarding the change in gender, as well as the need for accurate identification and a photograph reflecting the applicants current appearance. It is based on standards and recommendations of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), recognized as the authority in this field by the American Medical Association (AMA).

c. A passport is defined by INA 101(a)(30) (Immigration and Nationality Act) (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(30)) as “any travel document issued by competent authority showing the bearer’s origin, identity, and nationality if any, which is valid for the entry of the bearer into a foreign country.” An individual’s gender is an integral part of that person’s identity.

d. Sex reassignment surgery is not a prerequisite for passport issuance based on gender change.

e. Medical certification of gender transition from a licensed physician as described in 8 FAM 403.3-2 is the only documentation of gender change required. Other medical records must not be requested.

f. A form DS-11 Application for U.S. Passport must be used the first time an applicant applies for a passport in reassigned gender, as personal appearance for execution is required, even if the applicant has a previous passport. A change in gender is a change in the identity of the applicant, and evidence of identity in the new name (if applicable) and gender must be presented. Subsequent applications in the same gender may be submitted on a form DS-82 if the applicant is eligible (see 8 FAM 702.2 regarding eligibility to apply on a form DS-82 and 8 FAM 403.3-3(D) regarding resumption of the birth gender).

The State Department official on background told us that If CA receives an appropriate certification that transition is complete from a licensed physician, a full-validity passport will be issued.”

The June 27  guidance notes that “A full validity U.S. passport will be issued reflecting a new gender upon presentation of a signed, original certification or statement, on office letterhead, from a licensed physician who has treated the applicant for her/his gender-related care or reviewed and evaluated the gender-related medical history of the applicant.” It does not mention the requirement for full transition. When we seek clarification, the same State Department official on background told us the following:

If an applicant is in the beginning stages of transition, a limited passport will be issued to the individual. This can be replaced within two years from the date of issuance for a full validity passport at no-cost to the applicant once CA receives medical certification of the appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition.

The June 27 guidance also says that “The applicant is not required to obtain an amended birth record, amended Consular Report of Birth (CRBA), or to request that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issue a replacement Certificate of Naturalization/Citizenship reflecting the change of gender.”   But also that “State law in the United States and the laws of other countries vary on whether an amended birth certificate may be issued reflecting a gender change”.  

Applicants are required to provide primary and secondary IDs in their new gender. Th guidance says “Some form of photographic ID must be presented; You cannot use the doctor’s certification as the only evidence to identify an applicant.”

Medical certifications from persons who are not licensed physicians (e.g. psychologists; physician assistants; nurse practitioners; and others) are not/not acceptable.

8 FAM 403.3-8  has the sample letter for licensed physicians certifying to the applicant’s gender change/transition.

The guidance also includes a section on “conversations with passport applicants seeking to document gender change/transition”, for passport adjudicators:

1) As with all passport applicants, you must be sensitive and respectful at all times;
2) Refer to the applicant by the pronoun appropriate to her/his new gender even if the transition is not complete.
3) Ask only appropriate questions regarding information necessary to determine citizenship and identity of the applicant.

Read more here.

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@StateDept’s Immigrant Visa Processing Portal #CEAC Down For 10 Days Now

Posted: 1:15 pm PT
Update: July 31, 2:32 | It looks like the CEAC website is once again functional as of today.  

 

The State Department’s Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) for immigrant visas has been down since at least July 20th.  We can confirm that the service affected is specific to immigrant visa applicants and does not affect nonimmigrant visa applications.  We understand from a source that  the National Visa Center (NVC) that is using the website to allow applicants to send their paperwork to the consulates doesn’t have any information about the reasons or the possible timeframe on when it will be back on. We were told although we’re unable to confirm that “appointments have been canceled this time as well and it affected every consulate in the world that is using the new “faster” digital processing system.”

On July 26, we requested clarification from the Consular Affairs bureau if this is a scheduled maintenance and if they have a time frame when this will be completed. The following is a comment we received from a State Department official on background in response to our inquiry:

The Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) Immigrant Visa web portal is currently unavailable due to maintenance. During this time, IV applicants will be unable to access/login to the CEAC Immigrant Visa Agent (DS-261), Online Immigrant Visa Application (DS-260), or the Immigrant Visa Fee Payment portal. The CEAC Immigrant Visa application Status Check and Nonimmigrant Visa Application (DS-160) are not impacted by this maintenance. For urgent cases that are already at an overseas post, applicants may be asked to complete a paper-based immigrant visa application (DS-230), which will be provided by the local consulate or embassy. We regret the inconvenience to travelers and recognize the hardship for those waiting for visas, and in some cases, their family members or employers in the United States, during this maintenance period.

A quick scan of a few u.s. embassies’ visa webpages indicate no announcement of the system’s unavailability, however, travelstate.gov does have a highlighted announcement at the top of its page that says:

Immigrant visa forms and fee payments are currently unavailable in the Consular Electronic Application Center. We apologize for the inconvenience. We’re working to resolve this and hope to have the system fully functional as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience.

Apparently, some attorneys who made inquiries were told that a planned weekend update to the system resulted in an unexpected “catastrophic failure.” On July 27, travel.state.gov tweeted the following but we’re nowhere near in learning if this was a regularly scheduled update that gone bad, if there are other technical issues, or what is the time frame for bringing this system back online.

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Consular and Border Security Programs: Increases/Decreases in FY2019

Posted: 3:54 am ET

 

This is a follow-up post on the item we did on consular revenue forecasts last week (see@StateDept Revises Downward Its Consular Revenue Forecasts). The following summarizes projected obligations for Consular and Border Security Programs in FY2019, including increases/decreases from the FY 2018 Request.  These are the areas that get spending allocations from consular revenue generated by Consular Affairs. If the consular revenue continues to shrink, we think that the programs and offices below will see the impact with the decreased funds — from salaries to OBO and MED; and it won’t stop there.

via reactiongifs.com

Domestic Executive Support: $35,430,000

Domestic Executive Support includes $35.4 million in CA leadership and support operations. This amount will maintain core activities and programs, as well as new initiatives to increase operational efficiency, provide necessary staffing, improve customer service, and promote management best practices. The decrease of -$6.8 million from the FY 2018 Request is largely due to a reduction in contract service costs and a decrease in support costs related to the CA Domestic Facilities Planning Board.

Fraud Prevention Programs: $5,768,000

The Office of Fraud Prevention Programs (CA/FPP) strengthens the integrity of the consular process by building skills, developing techniques, and increasing data-sharing to enable consular personnel to detect fraud domestically and overseas. The FY 2019 Request of $5.8 million funds the overall operations required for CA to enhance U.S. border protection and security through fraud prevention work. The decrease of -$0.5 million from the FY 2018 Request is due to reductions in travel, fraud prevention workshops and purchases of equipment for the Counterfeit Deterrence Laboratory.

Visa Processing: $248,397,000

The Visa Services Directorate (VO) administers the visa portion of the U.S. immigration system, supporting overseas posts in visa adjudication. VO considers visa adjudications to be national security decisions and works with other agencies to screen all applicants efficiently and accurately for security threats and other potential ineligibilities. The FY 2019 Request of $248.4 million supports the reduced costs of adjudication for immigrant visas (IVs) and non-immigrant visas (NIVs), FBI fingerprint checks, screening workloads, and other support costs. This includes funding for the Affidavit of Support Program (AoS) and the Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery Program, as these two fees support overall VO services in the adjudicating and processing of visa requests. The decrease of -$73.6 million from the FY 2018 Request reflects reduced NIV demand and corresponding reductions to the FBI Fingerprint Checks reimbursements, purchase of visa products and consumables and overall costs for general visa operations.

Passport Directorate: $924,480,000

The Passport Services Directorate (PPT) adjudicates U.S. citizenship and nationality, determines entitlement, and issues U.S. passport documents to eligible U.S. citizens and nationals. These efforts help facilitate legitimate U.S. travel, trade, and tourism by providing secure travel documents to those eligible, thereby strengthening U.S. borders and national security. The FY 2019 Request of $924.5 million reflects a decrease of $98.3 million from the FY 2018 Request and includes funding for supplies and overhead costs for the production of U.S. travel documents, and supports the rollout of the Next Generation Passport (NGP) book, which are demand-driven expenses.

American Citizens Services: $17,467,000

The Directorate of Overseas Citizens Services (OCS) is responsible for the protection and safety of U.S. citizens traveling and residing abroad, and provides emergency and nonemergency services to U.S. citizens. The FY 2019 Request of $17.5 million allows OCS to meet its protection and safety responsibilities for U.S. citizens residing and traveling abroad, including consular crisis management, protection of children, crime victim assistance, welfare and whereabouts of citizens, voter assistance, and emergency information programs, and emergency support to imprisoned and destitute citizens. This increase of $1.3 million from the FY 2018 Request is attributable to market research contract cost increases.

Consular Affairs Overseas Support: $938,037,000

Overseas consular posts provide the full range of consular services to U.S. citizens abroad and to foreign citizens who want to visit, do business in, or immigrate to the United States. The Request of $938.0 million maintains core programs that are coordinated and administered in Washington, D.C., but support worldwide consular operations. Funding decreases of -$353.1 million from the FY 2018 Request are attributable to revised calculation methods for overseas funding requirements and changing consular workload.

CBSP SUPPORT/DEPARTMENT OF STATE PARTNERS: $536,535,000

Bureau of Diplomatic Security: $66,174,000

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) coordinates and facilitates investigations involving U.S. and foreign travel documents. Investigations include fraudulent issuance, acquisition, and use of U.S. passports, and visa fraud cases including fraudulent issuance, procurement, counterfeiting, and forgery of U.S. visas. The FY 2019 Request of $66.2 million reflects a -$0.5 million decrease from the FY 2018 Request and realigns funding from Passport Services to fund security equipment at various passport facilities, and to realign funding from Visa Services to fund renovations at Kentucky Consular Center. It also supports domestic and overseas DS operations that combat fraud and human trafficking, and supports uniformed protection officers assigned to domestic CA facilities.

Foreign Service Institute: $25,921,000

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) provides training in consular work, language studies, professional development, leadership, information technology, and security. The Request of $25.9 million consists of a -$1.7 million reduction from the FY 2018 Request for Consular and Professional Training due to increased distance learning and a reduction in IT training costs

Bureau of Overseas Building Operations: $264,421,000

The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) directs the worldwide overseas building program for the Department of State. OBO supports the overseas consular facilities, including office space (functional leases) and housing space (residential leases) for consular personnel, CA’s share of new embassy and consulate capital construction projects through the Capital Security Cost-Sharing Program (CSCS), and as necessary, targeted facility infrastructure improvement projects for consular sections overseas. The FY 2019 CBSP Request of $264.4 million, transferred to OBO’s ESCM appropriation, is a $0.4 million decrease from the FY 2018 President’s Request and results from reduced funding needed for functional leases and non-recurral of targeted facility improvement projects. The decrease is offset by a $31.5 million increase for CA’s share of CSCS.

Post Assignment Travel: $47,907,000

Post Assignment Travel (PAT) for overseas consular personnel includes training, travel, and change of station costs, including the shipment of personal effects and baggage. PAT is crucial for staffing worldwide missions with the trained Foreign Service staff needed to meet visa demand overseas. The FY 2019 Request of $47.9 million is a reduction of $0.8 million and refines cost calculations for overseas travel.

Bureau of Human Resources: $14,203,000

The Bureau of Human Resources (HR) provides onboarding and administrative support for domestic and overseas consular employees, to support the staff increases needed to address consular workload changes. The FY 2019 Request of $14.2 million reflects a $1.6 million increase from the FY 2018 Request and funds a new dedicated CA Limited Non-Career Appointments (LNA) subunit in HR related to gateway online testing and other support costs to facilitate the expeditious vetting of Consular Fellow candidates to fill consular staffing gaps overseas.

Bureau of Administration: $54,269,000

The Bureau of Administration (A) supports CA by operating and maintaining facilities at the National Visa Center (NVC) and National Passport Center (NPC) in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the Kentucky Consular Center (KCC), the Charleston Regional Center (RCO), and SA-17, and CA’s headquarters building in Washington, D.C. The Bureau also offers technical expertise and assistance for incoming mail threat detection, ergonomic assessments of office environments, indoor air quality assessments, and other environmental health and safety programs at all CA-occupied facilities throughout the United States. The FY 2019 Request of $54.3 million includes contract cost adjustments. This request is a $1.0 million increase from the FY 2018 Request.

Bureau of Medical Services: $292,000

The Bureau of Medical Services (MED) safeguards and promotes the health and well-being of America’s diplomatic community worldwide. It provides medical clearances for employees filling consular positions, including Foreign Service Officers, LNAs, and Appointment Eligible Family Members (AEFMs).

CBSP STAFF / AMERICAN SALARIES: $644,812,000

Human resources are the most vital component of CBSP-funded programs and activities. The Department devotes a significant amount of effort and resources towards increasing efficiency and capacity in the visa and passport processes, ensuring adequate staffing levels both domestically and overseas. CBSP-funded payroll includes 4,914 funded positions in CA and in Department partner bureaus that receive CBSP funding.

Repatriation Loans: $789,000

The CBSP funds the administrative costs for the Repatriation Loans program, which assists destitute U.S. citizens abroad who have no other source of funds to return to the United States.

Comptroller and Global Financial Services (CGFS): $1,044,000

The Bureau of the Comptroller and Global Financial Services (CGFS) provides financial services in support of ongoing consular-related activities, including vouchering, payroll processing, accounts payable, receivables, and refund processing.

Confidential Investigations: $500,000

Confidential Investigations conducts certain law enforcement activities related to visa and passport fraud. The FY 2019 CBSP Request of $0.5 million funds the Office of Emergencies in the Diplomatic and Consular Services.

Bureau of Information Resource Management: $60,686,000

The Bureau of Information Resource Management (IRM) provides systems technology and backbone support for critical visa and passport systems. The FY 2019 Request of $60.7 million reflects a $0.4 million increase from the FY 2018 Request and supports all consular domestic and overseas IT initiatives such as Network Services, Enterprise Server Operations Center (ESOC) Hosting Services, Global IT Modernization (GITM) Program, SharePoint, and SMART. The increase is due to contract cost adjustments.

Office of the Legal Adviser: $329,000

The Office of the Legal Adviser (L) provides legal advice and services to Department of State bureaus and officials on consular-related matters, such as interagency efforts and international negotiations, benefits and services to U.S. citizens abroad, international children’s issues, international judicial assistance, and the performance of other consular functions by U.S. consular officers or U.S. protecting powers abroad.

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@StateDept Spox Talks “No Double Standard Policy” and 7 FAM 052 Loudly Weeps

Posted: 2:58 am ET

 

So we asked about the State Department’s “no double stand policy” on December 5 after media reports say that classified cables went out  in the past 2 weeks warning US embassies worldwide to heighten security ahead of a possible @POTUS announcement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

On December 7, the State Department press corps pressed the official spokesperson about a cable that reportedly asked agency officials to defer all nonessential travel to Israel, the West Bank, and Jerusalem. Note that the security messages issued by multiple posts on December 5 and 6 with few exceptions were personal security reminders, and warnings of potential protests.  The Worldwide Caution issued on December 6 is an update “with information on the continuing threat of terrorist actions, political violence, and criminal activity against U.S. citizens and interests abroad.

None of the messages released include information that USG officials were warned to defer non-essential travel to the immediate affected areas. When pressed about this apparent double standard, the official spox insisted that “unfortunately, just as State Department policy, we don’t comment on official – whether or not there was an official communication regarding — regarding this.”

Noooooooooooooooooo!

The spox then explained  what the “no double standard” policy means while refusing to comment on official communication that potentially violates such policy. And if all else fails, try “hard to imagine that our lawyers have not gone through things.”  

Holy moly guacamole, read this: 7 FAM 052  NO DOUBLE STANDARD POLICY

In administering the Consular Information Program, the Department of State applies a “no double standard” policy to important security threat information, including criminal information.

Generally, if the Department shares information with the official U.S. community, it should also make the same or similar information available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official U.S. citizens/nationals.

If a post issues information to its employees about potentially dangerous situations, it should evaluate whether the potential danger could also affect private U.S. citizens/nationals living in or traveling through the affected area.

The Department’s “No Double Standard” policy, provided in 7 FAM 052, is an integral part of CA/OCS’s approach to determine whether to send a Message.  The double standard we guard against is in sharing threat-related information with the official U.S. community — beyond those whose job involves investigating and evaluating threats — but not disseminating it to the U.S. citizen general public when that information does or could apply to them as well.

Also this via 7 FAM 051.2(b) Authorities (also see also 22 CFR 71.1, 22 U.S.C. 2671 (b)(2)(A), 22 U.S.C. 4802, and 22 U.S.C. 211a):

…The decision to issue a Travel Alert, Travel Warning, or a Security or Emergency Message for U.S. Citizens for an individual country is based on the overall assessment of the safety/security situation there.  By necessity, this analysis must be undertaken without regard to bilateral political or economic considerations.  Accordingly, posts must not allow extraneous concerns to color the decision of whether to issue information regarding safety or security conditions in a country, or how that information is to be presented.

As to the origin of this policy, we would need to revisit the Lockerbie Bombing and Its Aftermath (this one via ADST’s Oral History).

The State Department’s official spokesperson via the Daily Press Briefing, December 7, 2017:

QUESTION: So a cable went out to all U.S. diplomatic and consular missions yesterday that asked State Department officials to defer all nonessential travel to the entirety of Israel, the West Bank, and Jerusalem. Normally when you are discouraging American officials from going to a particular area, under the no double standard rule, you make that public to all U.S. citizens so that they have the same information. I read through the Travel Warnings on Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza yesterday, both in the middle of the day and then at the end of the day after the worldwide caution, and I saw no similar warning to U.S. citizens or advice to U.S. citizens to defer nonessential travel to those areas. Why did you say one thing in private to U.S. officials and another thing – and not say the same thing in public to U.S. citizens?

MS NAUERT: Let me state the kinds of communication that we have put out to American citizens and also to U.S. Government officials. And one of the things we often say here is that the safety and security of Americans is our top priority. There are top policy priorities, but that is our overarching, most important thing, the safety and security of Americans.

We put out a security message to U.S. citizens on the 5th of December – on Monday, I believe it was. We put out a security message to our U.S. citizens that day – that was Tuesday? Okay, thank you – on the 5th of December. We put out another one on the 6th of December as well, expressing our concerns. We want to alert people to any possible security situations out of an abundance of caution. That information was put, as I understand it, on the State Department website, but it was also issued by many of our posts overseas in areas where we thought there could be something that could come up.

In addition to that, there is a Travel Warning that goes out regarding this region. That is something that is updated every six months, I believe it is. This Travel Warning for the region has been in effect for several, several years, so that is nothing new. In addition to that, we put out a worldwide caution. That is updated every six months. We had a worldwide caution in place for several years, but yesterday, out of an abundance of caution, we updated it. As far as I’m aware of, and I won’t comment on any of our internal communications to say whether or not there were any of these internal communications because we just don’t do that on any matter, but I think that we’ve been very clear with Americans, whether they work for – work for the U.S. Government or whether they’re citizens traveling somewhere, about their safety and security. This is also a great reminder for any Americans traveling anywhere around the world to sign up for the State Department’s STEP program, which enables us to contact American citizens wherever they are traveling in the case of an emergency if we need to communicate with them.

QUESTION: But why did you tell your officials not to travel to those areas between December 4th and December 20th, and not tell American citizens the same things? Because you didn’t tell that to American citizens in all of the messages that you put up on the embassy website, on the consulate website, nor did you tell American citizens that in a Worldwide Caution, nor did you tell them that in the link to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza that was put out by the State Department in the Worldwide Caution yesterday. You’re telling your people inside one thing, and you’re telling American citizens a different thing, and under your own rules, you are – there is supposed to be no double standard. Why didn’t you tell U.S. citizens the same thing you told the U.S. officials?

MS NAUERT: Again, unfortunately, just as State Department policy, we don’t comment on official – whether or not there was an official communication regarding —

Image via Wikimedia Commons by Saibo

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: – regarding this. But I can tell you as a general matter, I think we have been very clear about the security concerns regarding Americans. We have put out those three various subjects or types of communications to American citizens who are traveling in areas that could be affected.

QUESTION: I’m going to ask you –

MS NAUERT: In terms of the U.S. Government, when we talk about the U.S. Government deferring non-essential travel, I would hope that people would not travel for non-essential reasons just as a general matter anyway.

QUESTION: But why – I’m going to ask you a hypothetical, which I would ask you to entertain, if you’ll listen to it.

MS NAUERT: I’ll listen to it. I’d be happy to listen to it.

QUESTION: If there were such communication, and you know and every U.S. diplomat who gets an ALDAC, which means every other person who works at the State Department knows that this communication went out – so if there were such communication, why would you say one thing to your own officials and a different thing to American citizens —

MS NAUERT: As our —

QUESTION: – which is what the law and your own rules require?

MS NAUERT: As you well know, we have a no “double standard.” And for folks who aren’t familiar with what that means, it’s when we tell our staff something about a particular area or a security threat, we also share that same information with the American public. I would find it hard to imagine that our lawyers have not gone through things to try to make sure that we are all on the same page with the information that we provide to U.S. Government officials as well as American citizens. And that’s all I have for you on that. Okay? Let’s move on to something else.

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U.S. Mission Somalia on Ordered Departure of “Non-Essential” U.S. Citizen Employees

Posted: 12:26 am ET
Updated: 1:09 pm ET
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We understand that the State Department did not/did not put US Mission Somalia on ordered departure. This explains the absence of a new Travel Warning. Our understanding is that the post directive was for embassy U.S. citizen employees to depart, and not all American citizens. It looks like the U.S. Ambassador to Somalia is based in Kenya, so we don’t even know how many U.S. and local embassy staffers are actually in Mogadishu. When we asked US Mission Somalia whether there is an updated Travel Warning, we were directed to its security message of November 4 with a link to the January 11, 2017 Travel Warning, which specifically notes that “There is no U.S. embassy presence in Somalia.” The most recent Travel Warning for Somalia is actually dated August 3, 2017 which similarly notes the absence of U.S. embassy presence in Somalia. So who were actually directed to depart? Can post “direct” the departure of just embassy employees without triggering an update in Travel Warning? Wouldn’t that run afoul of the “no double standard” policy? Is this a case of folks just not knowing what they’re doing? Other missions in the past have restricted travels of staff members from various parts of their host countries citing “no-go” or red zones where employees are not allowed to go. But U.S. Mission Somalia uses the words “direct” implying a directive and “non-essential” which is usually used in reference to evacuations.

In May this year, we blogged that the @StateDept Plans to Build a “Somalia Interim Facility” in Mogadishu For $85-$125M. Also see D/SecState Blinken Swears in Stephen Schwartz, First U.S.Ambassador to Somalia in 25 Years.

On November 4, U.S. Mission Somalia announced that it has directed “its non-essential (sic) U.S. citizen employees” to depart Mogadishu until further notice due to specific threat information against U.S. personnel on the Mogadishu International Airport. The order came a day after AFRICOM announced that it conducted air strikes against ISIS in northeastern Somalia.

The directive for personnel  to go on authorized or ordered departure has to come from the State Department. Also U.S. Mission-Somalia’s original tweet says it directs “all non-essential U.S. citizen employees”; note that the corrected one says it directs “its non-essential U.S. citizen employees.” Who does that exclude? Everyone not under Chief of Mission authority? But all agencies fall under COM authority with the exception of those under the authority of combatant commanders, or has that changed?

We don’t know how many State Department U.S. citizen employees are actually in Mogadishu but the solicitation back in May to pre-qualify firms for design-build construction services for the construction of a Somalia Interim Facility in Mogadishu referred to a “20- acre site located on the Mogadishu International Airport (MIA) Compound” with “currently” three firms working on the compound: Bancroft Global Development, RA International, and SKA Group.

As far as we can tell, no updated Travel Warning had been released reflecting the departure of “non-essential” employees from Somalia.  And folks, if you keep calling evacuated employees “non-essential”, we’re going to start wondering what were they doing there in the first place if they were not essential.

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@StateDept Cancels Ongoing #DiversityVisa Registration, Launches New Registration Oct.18-Nov.22

Posted: 3:14 pm PT
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On October 12, we blogged that the diversity visa website (https://www.dvlottery.state.gov/) has been down for maintenance since at least Sunday, October 8 (see Diversity Visa Lottery Registration Opens 10/3-11/7 – Site Now Down For Maintenance!). The Bureau of Consular Affairs which runs the program has now put up a new announcement:

With the exception of the notice posted on https://www.dvlottery.state.gov there are no FAQs on the website.  The US Embassy in Ecuador, however, helpfully posted the following FAQ:

Q: What can you tell us about the technical issue? Were entries lost? Was this a hacking attempt?
The technical issue was a failure to properly account for country of eligibility if the entrant was selecting a country of eligibility other than his/her place of birth, which is permitted in certain limited circumstances. This was not a result of any outside interference or hacking attempt.

Q: How many entries had been received before this technical issue?
Due to technical issues, we are unable to reliably estimate how many valid entries were received at this time. In order to protect the integrity of the process and ensure a fair opportunity to all entrants, we are restarting the entry period now.

Q: How many DV entries does the Department expect for DV-2019?
In DV-2018, the last year for which numbers are available, we received more than 14 million entries from principal applicants.

Q: How will the Department notify applicants whose entries are not valid? 

The Department will send an automated email notification to each Diversity Visa entrant from whom an entry was received before October 18, 2017, using the email address provided on the lottery entry form, directing the entrant to check the website dvlottery.state.gov for an important announcement.  We will also work through our embassies and consulates to inform potential entrants of the situation and new registration period using social media and local media outlets.

Since this program, presumably was the same program used in last year’s lottery, why would the “technical issue” that failed “to properly account for country of eligibility if the entrant was selecting a country of eligibility other than his/her place of birth” only surface now?  Did CA switched contractor between last year and this year’s lottery roll out? Did contractor perform system programming change after the last lottery but before the current one opened on October 3, 2017?

What we don’t understand is if this is a technical issue now, why was this not a technical issue last year if they’re using the same program?

This is not the first time that a “technical issue” happened with diversity visa lottery program.

We were reminded recently that the May 2015 DV lottery site crashed when people were trying to check lottery results. But the really big one happened much earlier in 2011 when Consular Affairs ran the FY2012 lottery, and it turned out the lottery results were not even random, so CA had to nullify the visa lottery results and ran the lottery again.  The nullification resulted in a lawsuit against the Department of State. That lawsuit was eventually dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on July 14, 2011.

The State/OIG did review that FY2012 DV debacle, and since we’re not clear how the current technical issue occurred, we’ll revisit the 2011 case:

The OIG team found three problems that led to this failure, all of which stem from the lack of adherence to sound project management and systems development principles. First, CA’s Office of Consular Systems and Technology (CST) implemented a system programming change without performing adequate testing. Second, CST changed contract task orders without notifying the Office of Acquisition Management (AQM). Third, CST management failed to adequately discuss the changes with all stakeholders and thus did not fully understand how overseas consular officers administer the DV program.

Also this:

The primary reason for the DV 2012 program failure was that CST did not adequately test the new computer program for the random selection of potential DV program participants. Section 203(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended,3 limits the number of DVs that may be available by both region and country. Therefore, 22 CFR § 42.33(c) requires that selection be based on random rank-ordering of participants by region through a computer program designed for this purpose. When participants submit their records, the computer program assigns a sequential number to each record based on the participant’s region. Subsequently, the selection process uses the sequential numbers to randomly rank-order the participants’ records. CST management decided in November 2010 not to use the commercial off—the—shelf statistics analysis program that it had used successfully for random rank—ordering in numerous previous years. Instead, CST management asked one of its contractors to develop a program. This new computer program had a coding error that produced a nonrandom rank-ordering and thus failed to meet INA requirements. The program not only selected 98 percent of the applicants from the first two dates of the allowed submission dates, it also selected multiple individuals from the same families.

According to CST management and the contractor staff who developed the new DV computer program, testing scenarios were limited to validating that all geographic regions were assigned the correct numerical limitation and that the total number of selectees to be drawn was accurate. In addition, the development, testing, and production implementation of the program were done exclusively by one contracting company that, due to poor planning and failure to consult with all DV stakeholders, did not have adequate information to create a complete test plan for the computer program. Key stakeholders such as CST’s independent validation and verification team, the Visa Office, and the contractor that operated and managed the legacy computer program were not involved in planning and implementing the new computer program.
[…]
Principals in the Visa Office were not aware that changes had been made to the computer program until after it failed and the results had to be voided. CST management further stated that it is not clear to them which office is responsible for administering the DV program.

Read the full report here: https://oig.state.gov/system/files/176330.pdf.

So again, did the Consular Affairs contractor perform system programming changes after last year’s lottery but before the current one opened on the 3rd of October?

If that did not happen, and CA is using the same system, how did CA principals become aware that the system is failing “to properly account for country of eligibility if the entrant was selecting a country of eligibility other than his/her place of birth?”

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Diversity Visa Lottery Registration Opens 10/3-11/7 – Site Now Down For Maintenance!

Posted: 1:41 pm PT
Updated: 2:02 pm PT
Updated: October 13, 5:15 pm PT
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The annual Diversity Visa Lottery registration period opened October 3, 2017 and closes on November 7, 2017. We understand that the registration site (https://www.dvlottery.state.gov/) has been down since at least Sunday. Today the site has a “Down for Maintenance” banner. The question we’ve been asked: The State Department has 45 weeks a year to get the site ready for the five week registration period. Now it’s down for maintenance, what’s going on? We’ve asked. We will update if we hear anything back.

Update#1:
We understand that this could be a technical issue, but we have yet to hear an official response to our inquiry or a public statement from the State Department.

Update#2: A State Department official speaking on background told us “There is a technical problem requiring maintenance and the site will be brought back up as soon as possible.” When asked about the specifics of the technical problem or the time frame when they expect the issue resolved, the official declined to provide additional details. 

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Trump Announces New Visa Restrictions For Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, Somalia

Posted: 12:17 am ET
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President Trump issued E.O. 13780 on March 6 (Executive Order Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States). It revoked the January 27 order, and reissued the ban for the same six countries – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, with Iraq excepted (see Trump Revokes Travel Ban EO, Reissues New Executive Order For Six Muslim Countries Minus Iraq).

As we’ve pointed out previously here, there’s something in EO 13780 that did not get as much attention as the travel ban.  Section 2 (a) and (b) of the E.O. requires the review of immigration-related information sharing by foreign governments.

Sec. 2.  Temporary Suspension of Entry for Nationals of Countries of Particular Concern During Review Period.  (a)  The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence, shall conduct a worldwide review to identify whether, and if so what, additional information will be needed from each foreign country to adjudicate an application by a national of that country for a visa, admission, or other benefit under the INA (adjudications) in order to determine that the individual is not a security or public-safety threat.  The Secretary of Homeland Security may conclude that certain information is needed from particular countries even if it is not needed from every country.

(b)  The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence, shall submit to the President a report on the results of the worldwide review described in subsection (a) of this section, including the Secretary of Homeland Security’s determination of the information needed from each country for adjudications and a list of countries that do not provide adequate information, within 20 days of the effective date of this order.  The Secretary of Homeland Security shall provide a copy of the report to the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Director of National Intelligence.

The report required under Section 2(b) was reportedly submitted in mid-July to the President. The State Department subsequently sent a guidance cable to all posts worldwide to help foreign governments understand the requirements and how they can start meeting them. We understand that posts were told to request a response from their host government counterparts to enable them to respond to the State Department by July 21.

On September 24, President Trump announced new security measures that establish minimum requirements for international cooperation to support U.S. visa and immigration vetting and new visa restrictions for eight countries. The announcement cites Section 2 of Executive Order 13780 — “if foreign countries do not meet the United States Government’s traveler vetting and information sharing requirements, their nationals may not be allowed to enter the United States or may face other travel restrictions, with certain exceptions.” Below are the country-specific restrictions per Fact Sheet: Proclamation on Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats:

Country-Specific Travel Restrictions:

  • The United States maintained, modified, or eased restriction on 5 of 6 countries currently designated by Executive Order 13780. Those countries are Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia.
  • The United States lifted restrictions on 1 of 6 countries currently designated by Executive Order 13780: Sudan.
  • The United States added restrictions and/or additional vetting on 3 additional countries found to not meet baseline requirements, but that were not included in Executive Order 13780. These countries are: Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela.
  • The country specific restrictions are as follows:

Chad – Although it is an important partner, especially in the fight against terrorists, the government in Chad does not adequately share public-safety and terrorism-related information, and several terrorist groups are active within Chad or in the surrounding region, including elements of Boko Haram, ISIS-West Africa, and al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb. Accordingly, the entry into the United States of nationals of Chad, as immigrants, and as nonimmigrants on business (B-1), tourist (B-2), and business/tourist (B-1/B-2) visas, is suspended.

Iran – The government in Iran regularly fails to cooperate with the United States Government in identifying security risks; is the source of significant terrorist threats; is state sponsor of terrorism; and fails to receive its nationals subject to final orders of removal from the United States. Accordingly, the entry into the United States of nationals of Iran as immigrants and as nonimmigrants is suspended, except that entry by nationals of Iran under valid student (F and M) and exchange visitor (J) visas is not suspended, although such individuals will be subject to enhanced screening and vetting requirements.

Libya – Although it is an important partner, especially in the area of counterterrorism, the government in Libya faces significant challenges in sharing several types of information, including public-safety and terrorism-related information; has significant inadequacies in its identity-management protocols; has been assessed to be not fully cooperative with respect to receiving its nationals subject to final orders of removal from the United States; and has a substantial terrorist presence within its territory. Accordingly, the entry into the United States of nationals of Libya, as immigrants, and as nonimmigrants on business (B-1), tourist (B-2), and business/tourist (B-1/B-2) visas, is suspended.

North Korea – The government in North Korea does not cooperate with the United States Government in any respect and fails to satisfy all information-sharing requirements. Accordingly, the entry into the United States of nationals of North Korea as immigrants and nonimmigrants is suspended.

Somalia – Although it satisfies minimum U.S. information-sharing requirements, the government in Somalia still has significant identity-management deficiencies; is recognized as a terrorist safe haven; remains a destination for individuals attempting to join terrorist groups that threaten the national security of the United States; and struggles to govern its territory and to limit terrorists’ freedom of movement, access to resources, and capacity to operate. Accordingly, the entry into the United States of nationals of Somalia as immigrants is suspended, and nonimmigrants traveling to the United States will be subject to enhanced screening and vetting requirements.

Syria – The government in Syria regularly fails to cooperate with the U.S. Government in identifying security risks; is the source of significant terrorist threats; has been designated as a state sponsor of terrorism; has significant inadequacies in identity-management protocols; and fails to share public-safety and terrorism information. Accordingly, the entry into the United States of nationals of Syria as immigrants and nonimmigrants is suspended.

Venezuela – The government in Venezuela is uncooperative in verifying whether its citizens pose national security or public-safety threats; fails to share public-safety and terrorism-related information adequately; and has been assessed to be not fully cooperative with respect to receiving its nationals subject to final orders of removal from the United States. Accordingly, the entry into the United States of certain Venezuelan government officials and their immediate family members as nonimmigrants on business (B-1), tourist (B-2), and business/tourist (B-1/B-2) visas is suspended.

Yemen – Although it is an important partner, especially in the fight against terrorism, the government in Yemen faces significant identity-management challenges, which are amplified by the notable terrorist presence within its territory; fails to satisfy critical identity-management requirements; and does not share public-safety and terrorism-related information adequately. Accordingly, the entry into the United States of nationals of Yemen as immigrants, and as nonimmigrants on business (B-1), tourist (B-2), and business/tourist (B-1/B-2) visas, is suspended.

IRAQ: The Secretary of Homeland Security also assesses Iraq as inadequate according to the baseline criteria, but has determined that entry restrictions and limitations under a Presidential proclamation are not warranted because of the close cooperative relationship between the United States and the democratically elected government of Iraq, the strong United States diplomatic presence in Iraq, the significant presence of United States forces in Iraq, and Iraq’s commitment to combating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The Secretary recommends, however, that nationals of Iraq who seek to enter the United States be subject to additional scrutiny to determine if they pose risks to the national security or public safety of the United States.

The FAQ notes that these restrictions and limitations took effect at 3:30 p.m. eastern daylight time on September 24, 2017, for foreign nationals “who were subject to the suspension of entry under section 2 of E.O. 13780, and who lack a credible claim of a bonda fide relationship with a person or entity of the United States.” The restrictions and limitations take effect at 12:01 a.m. eastern daylight time on October 18, 2017, for all other foreign nationals subject to the suspension of entry under section 2 of E.O. 13780, and for nationals of Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela.

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Related posts:

Current Visa Sanctions: Cambodia, Guinea, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Plus The Gambia #INA243(d)

Posted: 1:38 am ET
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We previously blogged about visa sanctions in January 2017 for countries who refused to accept their deported nationals (see On Invocation of Visa Sanctions For Countries Unwilling to Accept Their Deported Nationals. Also read @StateDept Notifies Foreign Countries of New Information Sharing Standards Required For U.S. Travel.

Note that the Trump Executive Order: Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States include section 12 on countries who refused to accepted their nationals who are subject to removal by the United States:

Sec. 12.  Recalcitrant Countries.  The Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of State shall cooperate to effectively implement the sanctions provided by section 243(d) of the INA (8 U.S.C. 1253(d)), as appropriate.  The Secretary of State shall, to the maximum extent permitted by law, ensure that diplomatic efforts and negotiations with foreign states include as a condition precedent the acceptance by those foreign states of their nationals who are subject to removal from the United States.

Read more: U.S. to Invoke Visa Sanctions For Four Countries Unwilling to Accept Deported Nationals

On September 12, the State Department released an update of its FAM guidance 9 FAM 601.12 on the “Discontinuation of Visa Issuance Under INA 243 (D).   Per 9 FAM 601.12-2(C), the following countries are currently subject to discontinuation of visa issuance under INA 243(d): Cambodia, The Gambia, Guinea, Eritrea, and Sierra Leone.

Kevin Brosnahan, the spokesperson for the Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs released the following statement:

The Secretary of State has ordered consular officers in Eritrea, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Cambodia to implement visa restrictions effective September 13, 2017. The Secretary determined the categories of visa applicants subject to these restrictions on a country-by-country basis. Consular operations at the U.S. embassy will continue. These visa restrictions do not affect other consular services provided, including adjudication of applications from individuals not covered by the suspension.

The Department of State received notification under Section 243(d) of the Immigration and Nationality Act from the Department of Homeland Security for Eritrea, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Cambodia. According to that section of the law, when a country denies or unreasonably delays accepting one of its nationals, the Secretary of Homeland Security may notify the Secretary of State. The Secretary must then order consular officers in that country to discontinue issuance of any or all visas.   The Secretary determines the categories of applicants subject to the visa restrictions.

via travel.state.gov

Below are the four countries, in addition to The Gambia that are currently under visa sanctions/restrictions. With the exception of  Eritrea where the sanctions affect “Eritrean citizens, subjects, nationals, and residents,” the restrictions for the other countries are currently directed at government officials and their families.

CAMBODIA (see full notice here)

As of September 13, the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia has discontinued issuing B1, B2, and B1/B2 visas for Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs employees, with the rank of Director General and above, and their families, with limited exceptions.

Under Section 243(d) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, when so requested by the Secretary of Homeland Security due to a particular country’s refusal to accept or unreasonably delay the return of its nationals, the Secretary of State must order consular officers to suspend issuing visas until informed by the Secretary of Homeland Security that the country in question has accepted the individuals.

GUINEA (see full notice here)

As of September 13, the U.S. Embassy in Conakry, Guinea has discontinued issuing B, F, J, and M visas to Guinean government officials and their immediate family members, with limited exceptions.

ERITREA (see full notice here)

As of September 13, 2017, the United States Embassy in Asmara, Eritrea, under instructions from the Secretary of State, has discontinued the issuance of non immigrant visas for business or pleasure (B1/B2) to Eritrean citizens, subjects, nationals, and residents. The Department of State may make exceptions for travel that is in the U.S. national interest, for emergency or humanitarian travel, and other limited exceptions.

SIERRA LEONE (see full notice here)

On Wednesday, September 13, the United States Embassy in Freetown, Sierra Leone will discontinue the issuance of B visas (temporary visitors for business or pleasure) to Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials and immigration officials.

Consular operations at the U.S. embassy or consulate will continue.  These visa restrictions do not affect other consular services provided, including adjudication of applications from individuals not covered by the suspension.

THE GAMBIA (see announcement here)

The sanctions placed on The Gambia occurred last year. As of October 1, 2016, the United States Embassy in Banjul, The Gambia discontinued issuing visas to Gambian government officials, others associated with the government, and their families.  The announcement says that the Department may make exceptions for travel based on U.S. international obligations and to advance humanitarian and other U.S. government interests.

Per  FAM 601.12-3(C) (a) Public Notice of Discontinuation of Visa Issuance:  During the period of discontinuation, posts should continue receiving and adjudicating cases; however, posts should explain the discontinuation of visas to all applicants covered by the order.  The explanation should note that visas cannot generally be issued for certain visa classifications or categories of applicants as determined by the Secretary’s order, and explain that visa fees will not be refunded, but that the cases will be reviewed again once visa issuance resumes.  The notification may be provided by flyers posted in the consular section and/or on the post’s website.

All the above notices are posted under the “News/Events” section of the embassies’ websites, which is understandable, but that is also not the section that visa applicants would first look when searching for visa information. One post did not include the information on non-refundable fees.

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Secretary Tillerson Swears-In Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Carl Risch

Posted: 12:22 am ET
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Via state.gov

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson swears-in Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Carl Risch, at the Washington Passport Agency, in Washington, D.C. on August 31, 2017. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

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