Advertisements

@StateDept Opens a New Consulate in Porto Alegre, Brazil

We have been a reader-supported blog since 2014. We want to keep this blog as open as possible and that’s the reason we don’t have a subscription fee. You know best whether our work is of value to you or not. If it is, and if your circumstances allow it, we could use your help to carry on for another year: Help Diplopundit Get to Year 10 ⚡️
Posted: 2:59 am ET

 

U.S. Mission Brazil announced the opening of the new U.S. Consulate in Porto Alegre. The new consulate, located at 1889 Assis Brasil Avenue – Passo d’Areia, started offering services to American citizens on June 5 and non-immigrant visas on June 8. The new post covers the consular district of Rio Grande do Sul. The consulate says it supports engagement with Brazilians living in the south of the country.

“The U.S. presence in Porto Alegre is designed to improve the relationship with Brazilians in the South of the country, as part of the efforts of the United States diplomatic mission to expand bilateral trade and investment, strengthen relations between the two countries, facilitate travel, foster educational and cultural exchange and promote economic development.”

The Consulate’s  new Principal Officer, Julia Harlan assumed office in Porto Alegre this month.  The brief announcement notes that the official opening ceremony for the consulate will take place at the end of June.

U.S. Consulate Porto Alegre, Photo via US Mission Brazil

U.S. Mission Brazil now includes the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia and the following constituent posts: U.S. Consulate General Recife;
U.S. Consulate General Rio de Janeiro; U.S. Consulate General São Paulo; U.S. Consulate Porto Alegre and
the American Presence Post in Belo Horizonte.

Mission Brazil (embassy and constituent posts) is the 4th largest visa issuance post in 2016 (after China-Mainland, Mexico, and India), accounting for 503,642 nonimmigrant visa issuances or 4.9% of total nonimmigrant issuances in FY2016.

U.S. Consulate Porto Alegre also notes the following:

A Relationship Almost 200 Years Old

In 1822, the United States was the first country to recognize an independent Brazil, and by 1835, the United States established a consular agency in Rio Grande do Sul. Initially situated in the city of Rio Grande, the agency facilitated trade between the United States and Brazil and provided services to American merchants in the bustling port. In these initial years, as Porto Alegre was under siege during the Ragamuffin War, Rio Grande served as the temporary capital of the region. In 1918, after the First World War, the consulate moved to the re-established capital of Porto Alegre, where it remained until 1996. During this period, the Consulate resided in five different commercial spaces throughout the city. In 2017, the Consulate re-opened in a new, modern facility designed to best support American Citizens living in the area and contribute to the thriving relationship between the United States and southern Brazil.

A History of Cultural Exchange

The United States has enjoyed a long history of cultural exchange with the southern states of Brazil.  Porto Alegre’s Binational Center, which opened in 1938 and is one of Brazil’s oldest centers, remains an important partner for promoting cultural and educational exchange.  Porto Alegre’s center went on to serve as a model for many future centers built across Brazil.  In the 1980s and early 1990s, Porto Alegre welcomed many influential American thinkers and writers, promoting the shared values of the two nations.  Simultaneously, hundreds of influential Gauchos visited the United States through State Department-funded exchange programs.  Among them were Brazil’s first female Supreme Court justice, Ellen Gracie Northfleet, renowned author Érico Veríssimo, and Eva Sopher, who led the renovation of Theatro São Pedro.  The U.S. Consulate in Porto Alegre supports the continuation of this notable history.

Porto Alegre, Photo via US Mission Brazil

 

#

Advertisements

Senate Confirms Peter M. McKinley to be U.S.Ambassador to Brazil, More Noms Pending in Committee

Posted: 3:31 pm ET

The following are nominations currently waiting for their committee hearings or waiting on the executive calendar for a full Senate vote. As of today, the SFRC does not have nominations scheduled for hearings.

Pending on the Executive Calendar:

DEPARTMENT OF STATE

Amos J. Hochstein, of the District of Columbia, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Energy Resources), vice John Stern Wolf.

UNITED STATES ADVISORY COMMISSION ON PUBLIC DIPLOMACY

Douglas Barry Wilson, of Delaware, to be a Member of the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy for a term expiring July 1, 2017, vice Elizabeth F. Bagley, term expired.

OVERSEAS PRIVATE INVESTMENT CORPORATION

Nelson Reyneri, of Washington, to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation for a term expiring December 17, 2018, vice Matthew Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, term expired.

Roberto R. Herencia, of Illinois, to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation for a term expiring December 17, 2018. (Reappointment)

EUROPEAN BANK FOR RECONSTRUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT

Catherine Ann Novelli, of Virginia, to be United States Alternate Governor of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, vice Robert D. Hormats, resigned.

 

Pending in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

Ambassadors and Senior Officials:

2016-07-13 PN1624 Department of State | Joseph R. Donovan Jr., of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Indonesia.

2016-06-29 PN1588 Department of State | W. Stuart Symington, of Missouri, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

2016-06-16 PN1547 Department of State | Andrew Robert Young, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Burkina Faso.

2016-06-16 PN1546 Department of State | Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir, of Connecticut, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Malaysia.

2016-05-19 PN1490 Department of State | Sung Y. Kim, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of the Philippines.

2016-05-19 PN1488 Department of State | Rena Bitter, of Texas, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

2015-07-08 PN628 Department of State | Mari Carmen Aponte, of the District of Columbia, to be Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the Organization of American States, with the rank of Ambassador.

2015-01-08 PN48 Department of State | Jennifer Ann Haverkamp, of Indiana, to be Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

2015-02-26 PN229 African Development Bank | Marcia Denise Occomy, of the District of Columbia, to be United States Director of the African Development Bank for a term of five years.

2015-02-26 PN228 Inter-American Development Bank | Mileydi Guilarte, of the District of Columbia, to be United States Alternate Executive Director of the Inter-American Development Bank.

Foreign Service Nominations

2016-09-06 PN1705 Foreign Service | Nominations beginning John Robert Adams, and ending David M. Zwick, which 161 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on September 6, 2016.

2016-09-06 PN1704 Foreign Service | Nominations beginning Jorge A. Abudei, and ending Deborah Kay Jones, which 100 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on September 6, 2016.

2016-07-13 PN1643 Foreign Service | Nominations beginning Jennisa Paredes, and ending Jamoral Twine, which 5 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on July 13, 2016.

2016-07-13 PN1642 Foreign Service | Nominations beginning Diana Isabel Acosta, and ending Elisa Joelle Zogbi, which 192 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on July 13, 2016.

2015-06-10 PN573-6 Foreign Service | Nominations beginning Jeffries Blunt de Graffenried, Jr., and ending Debbie Patrice Jackson, which 2 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on June 10, 2015.

2015-02-26 PN230-3 Foreign Service | Nomination for David Elliott Horton III, which nomination was received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on February 26, 2015.

2015-01-13 PN72-8 Foreign Service | Nomination for Daniel Menco Hirsch, which nomination was received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 13, 2015.

2015-01-13 PN71-2 Foreign Service | Nominations beginning David J. Barth, and ending R. Douglass Arbuckle, which 2 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 13, 2015.

 

 

 

#

 

Snapshot: Consular Staffing Levels in Brazil & China — FY 2011 to 2014

Posted: 12:41 pm EDT

Via GAO

According to State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, the past hiring of additional staff through various authorities and temporary assignments of consular officers during periods of high NIV demand contributed to meeting E.O. 13597’s goals of expanding NIV processing capacity and reducing worldwide wait times, particularly at U.S. posts in Brazil, China, India, and Mexico.16

• Increase in consular officers: According to State officials, from fiscal year 2012 through 2014, State “surged” the number of consular officers deployed worldwide from 1,636 to 1,883 to help address increasing demand for NIVs, an increase of 15 percent over 3 years. In response to E.O. 13597, State increased the number of deployed consular officers between January 19, 2012 (the date of E.O. 13597), and January 19, 2013, from 50 to 111 in Brazil, and 103 to 150 in China, a 122 and 46 percent increase, respectively (see fig. 2 for additional information on consular staffing increases in Brazil and China). As a result, State met its goal of increasing its NIV processing capacity in Brazil and China by 40 percent within a year of the issuance of E.O. 13597.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27

• Limited noncareer appointments: In fiscal year 2012, State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs launched the limited noncareer appointment (LNA) pilot program to quickly deploy language-qualified staff to posts facing an increase in NIV demand and workload. The first cohort of LNAs—who are hired on a temporary basis for up to 5 years for specific, time-bound purposes—included 19 Portuguese speakers for Brazil and 24 Mandarin speakers for China who were part of the increased number of consular officers deployed to posts noted above. In fiscal year 2013, State expanded the LNA program to include Spanish speakers. As of August 2015, State had hired 95 LNAs for Brazil, China, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Mexico.

• Temporary assignment of consular officers: State utilizes the temporary redeployment of Foreign Service officers and LNAs to address staffing gaps and increases in NIV demand. Between October 2011 and July 2012, State assigned, on temporary duty, 220 consular officers to Brazil and 48 consular officers to China as part of its effort to reallocate resources to posts experiencing high NIV demand. State continues to use this method to respond to increases in NIV demand. For example, during the first quarter of fiscal year 2015, India experienced a surge in NIV demand that pushed NIV interview wait times over 21 days at three posts. To alleviate the situation, consular managers in India sent officers to the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai, which was experiencing higher wait times, from other posts, allowing the U.S. Mission in India to reduce average wait times to approximately 10 days by the end of December 2014.

#

State Department Annual Awards 2013 – A Banner Year for Consular Officers

❊ If you want to help keep us around, see Help Diplopundit Continue the Chase—Crowdfunding for 2014 via RocketHub ❊


— Domani Spero

The ceremony for the Annual State Department Awards is typically held in November.  The 2013 ceremony officiated by Secretary Kerry was held in November 14 last year at the Ben Franklin room in Foggy Bottom.  Although the names of awardees are normally released by cable internally, the names and photos do not make it to the public sphere until they are published by State mag early the following year.  This past January, State mag published the names, and we have extracted the names/photos of awardees below.

You will note some familiar names (and not so familiar ones) and posts.  The former chargé d’affaires and OMS at US Embassy Libya received awards.  The RSO for US Embassy Turkey received  the  Bannerman award recognizing outstanding contribution to security (see deadly terrorist attack on Embassy Ankara February 1, 2013). FSOs in Missions Brazil, Pakistan, and Mexico did very well garnering awards ranging from exceptional vision, leadership, and excellence in reporting.

Seems to be a banner year for consular folks.  Note that the consular boss for Mission Brazil Donald Jacobson received the Raphel Memorial Award for  “outstanding leadership and direction” of the consular team.  US Embassy Yemen’s consular chief, Stephanie A. Bunce received the Barbara Watson Award for Consular Excellence for “inspired leadership” (see US Embassy Yemen: Revocation of U.S. Passports, a Growing Trend?).  Emily J. Makely received the Mary Ryan Award  for “professionalism and personal commitment to thesecurity and well-being of U.S.citizens in Rwanda, as well as U.S. citizens being evacuatedfrom the Democratic Republic of Congo” as the sole consular officer at US Embassy Kigali.

The DCM award went to Laura Farnsworth Dogu of US Embassy Mexico. In 2006, Ms. Dogu also received the Watson Award for Consular Excellence for “her efforts to protect children through the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction.” Take a look.

Click on maximize view icon max iconon the lower rightmost end of the ScribD screen to read in full screen.

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Visa Hot Love for China and Brazil, Why No Hot Love for Mexico?

In January this year, the WH released  We Can’t Wait: President Obama Takes Actions to Increase Travel and Tourism in the United States.  The presser takes note of the following stats:

The number of travelers from emerging economies with growing middle classes – such as China, Brazil, and India – is projected to grow by 135%, 274%, and 50% respectively by 2016 when compared to 2010.  Nationals from these three countries contributed approximately $15 billion dollars and thousands of jobs to the U.S. economy in 2010.  In addition, Chinese and Brazilian tourists currently spend more than $6,000 and $5,000 respectively each, per trip, according to the Department of Commerce.

The Executive Order tasked the Department of State with among other things, 1) Increasing non-immigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40% in 2012; and 2) Ensuring that 80% of non-immigrant visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of receipt of application.

Last week, the State Department issued this media note: State Department Processes One Millionth Visa in China for Fiscal Year 2012.  We  did a blog post about our One Million Visa Applicants Club, currently with two members, China and Mexico (see US Missions China and Mexico: The One Million Visa Applicants Club) with Brazil on track to join the club.

Then we got an interesting comment from Sarah:

Consular operations in Mexico never get any love. How much you want to be that U.S. consular sections in Mexico issued their 1 millionth visa of FY2012 a month ago and neither the White House nor the State Department said anything, because the American public for some bizarre reason thinks Chinese and Brazilians getting visas translate to more money being spent in the U.S. but visas to Mexicans engender negative images in the average AmCit’s mind. How many outside resources has the DOS sent to consular sections in Mexico vs. in Brazil? In fact, staff FROM consular sections in Mexico has been sent to help Brazil!

That’s intriguing, so we went and look.

US Mission Mexico includes the following posts:

Mexico: Mexico City
Mexico: Ciudad Juarez
Mexico: Guadalajara
Mexico: Hermosillo
Mexico: Matamoros
Mexico: Merida
Mexico: Monterrey
Mexico: Nogales
Mexico: Nuevo Laredo
Mexico: Puerto Vallarta
Mexico: Tijuana
Mexico: VPP El Bajio
Mexico: VPP Chiapas-Tabasco

In fiscal year 2011 (October 2010-September 2011) , US Mission Mexico issued 1,315,116 nonimmigrant visas.  So it’s the first post to reached the one million milestone.  There’s Mexico, then China, and maybe Brazil.  And if you add Mission Mexico’s visa refusals, that number is even way higher.   Visa processing for regular visas prior to April 2012 was $140 a pop, currently at $160. We dug around the interwebs but could not find a State Department or White House statement touting the one million mark last year.

So sorry to report, there were no bells, whistles or fireworks.

We reached out to US Mission Mexico and we were told that “US Mission Mexico routinely issues more than a million visas annually.  Mission Mexico is by all measures the largest US consular operation in the world and that will remain true, even if we were passed in NIV volume (which has yet to happen).” US Mission Mexico apparently also has one of the largest US Citizen populations (1 million) overseas, have the most US visitors and lead the world in Special Citizen Services. Which means the mission also has one of the top US passport  issuances worldwide.

John B. Brennan, the Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs (MCCA) for Mexico was kind enough to respond to our email inquiry, in part responding:

We issued approximately 1.3 at the time China was announcing it had passed [a] million.  We will be doing at least 50% more than Brazil.  Individually Mexico City, Monterrey, Ciudad Juarez, Guadalajara and Tijuana all rank among the largest consular operations.  Even most of our smaller posts issue more than 100,000 visas.

We expect to issue more than 1.5 million visas in FY2012 and remain the largest NIV post as well.

So how come there’s not much of a news ripple on this? Is it that the dollar value of the US travel from Mexico is not there?

Absolutely not. In fact, Mr. Brennan told us that “the dollar value of travel to the US from Mexico is also higher than any other country requiring visas, by a significant margin.”

We like to have verifiable numbers so we went and dug around some more if we can come up with something solid.

DOC’s International Trade Administration puts out an annual list of visitation and spending in the US by international visitors. In 2011, Canada ($24 billion), Japan ($14.8 billion) and the United Kingdom ($12 billion) took the top three spots.  Canadians do not need visas with some exceptions, and Japan and the UK are both visa waiver countries. And here are the next three countries in terms of visitation/spending in the United States:

#4 Mexico (+6%) $9.2 Billion
Visitors from Mexico spent $9.2 billion experiencing the United States in 2011, an increase of 6% when compared to 2010. Although 2011 marks the second consecutive year of growth in U.S. travel and tourism-related exports to Mexico, this market has not fully recovered from the substantial downturn in 2009 (-17%). Travel and tourism exports account for 37% of all U.S. services exports to Mexico

#5 Brazil (+36%) $8.5 Billion
Talk about a growth market. 2011 marks the 8th consecutive year of double-digit growth in U.S. travel and tourism exports to Brazil. Visitors from Brazil spent a record-breaking $8.5 billion on travel to, and tourism-related activities within, the United States in 2011, an increase of 36% that follows an increase of 36% in 2010. Travel and tourism exports account for 39% of all U.S. services exports to Brazil.

#6 China (+47%) $7.7 Billion
Visitors from China spent a record-breaking $7.7 billion in the United States last year, positioning China well ahead of Germany in rankings of top markets for the first time ever. Moreover, U.S. travel and tour­ism exports to China have increased by at least 30% in seven of the last eight years! Travel and tourism exports account for 29% of all U.S. services exports to China.

So there, visitors from Brazil and China are spiking double digits in terms of visits and spending in the United States but with $9.2 billion of Mexican spending, are we “undercounting” the value of travel at the Mexican border zone?

The item from Sarah about sending staff from US Mission Mexico to assist US Mission Brazil, if true is a curious thing. Consular sections sometimes are able to get away with more officers than really needed because they’ve convinced somebody upstairs that the excess staffing will provide TDY help to other posts in the region who may need assistance.  But it is doubtful that Mexico has an excess of staff.  See, the wait time for visa appointments in Mexico City is 24 days. Last month, USCG Guadalajara made it as the top #8 consular post on wait time at 47 days (h/t to Consular Corner). Does this sound like a post with an over complement of staff?  Brasilia on the other hand has a wait time of just one day. One day. And yet, staff from consular sections in Mexico has been reportedly sent to help Brazil? Could this be the reason why there is an extended wait time in Mexico for visa appointments and almost none in Brazil?

Mr. Brennan was diplomatic enough not to touch on the subject of US Mission Mexico staff reportedly lent to US Mission Brazil, but did address some of our questions in his response to our email:

Our workload grew about 40% during the first half of FY12 — among the highest growth rates in the world.  We have backlogs at some posts, not surprising given our workload and growth rate, but they are being addressed.  The workload increase is due in significant measure to renewals of Border Crossing Cards (BCC) and for that particular stream of work we have no backlogs.  We do not expect growth to continue at these levels but we expect growth to continue.  We have made significant investments to meet the predicted BCC renewal workload including a large network (14) of contractor-run facilities doing routine tasks that allow us to leverage our official workforce.  We opened a new large consulate in Tijuana in 2011 and will open an even larger consulate in Monterrey in 2013-14.  Both of these facilities have significant consular facilities, the one in Monterrey has 41 NIV teller windows and significant space for citizen services.  We have several other new facilities on the drawing board.  We have among the most efficient staff in the world and are roughly right-sized, though a few increases are planned.

Note that he says, “We have among the most efficient staff in the world and are roughly right-sized…”

To us that means, they have enough people on the bus to tackle the workload. You take away a few to send to Brazil, and your operation undoubtedly suffers.  We can’t confirm such is the case here but …we’re looking at the wait times for both missions and note the wide margins.

Anyway, it’s not like US Mission Mexico doesn’t really get any love, it’s just not the same level of hot love we currently have with visa applicants from the emerging economies of China and Brazil.

But — do visas to Mexicans, as Sarah contends, really engender negative images in the average American Citizen’s mind? Can’t say for sure but that is entirely possible.  Why, just look at Arizona!

An April 2012 Pew Research report also says that “the most distinctive feature of the modern Mexican wave has been the unprecedented share of immigrants who have come to the U.S. illegally. Just over half (51%) of all current Mexican immigrants are unauthorized, and some 58% of the estimated 11.2 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. are Mexican.”

It doesn’t matter that almost half the unauthorized migrants did not cross the border. According to yet another Pew report “As much as 45% of the total unauthorized migrant population entered the country with visas that allowed them to visit or reside in the U.S. for a limited amount of time.” This one is a little outdated, but can’t find anything more recent on overstays.

It would be nice if we could look up the data on “overstayers” (international visitors who overstay the terms of their visas) by country. Unfortunately, as of  January 2011, US-VISIT computer systems identified having a backlog of 1.6 million potential overstay records.

And so the US-Visit wrestling mania continues.

So perhaps there is a reason here somewhere why US Mission Mexico doesn’t get fireworks and cymbals when it routinely issues over a million visas annually.  The WH and State tries to ignore the elephant in the room; it’s there, we’re sure of it. It’s just that there are no loud noises ….

Domani Spero

Updated  1:27 pm EST, July 23:
US Mission Brazil includes the embassy in Brasilia and the three constituents posts of Recife, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. An FSO familiar with Mission Mexico operation confirms to us that one tiny consulate sent four local staff for 1-month TDY tours to Mission Brazil, specifically Rio and São PauloThe officers left at the Mission Mexico posts have to “cover the gaps” left by the employees who went on TDY.  And it’s apparently the same story for the other posts in Mexico who also sent staff members to Brazil.   However, we do not have the total numbers of how many have been on TDY to Mission Brazil, and if this is a longer initiative or something that will conclude in September, the end of the fiscal year.

 

 

US Missions China and Mexico: The One Million Visa Applicants Club

It’s not the end of the the fiscal year yet, but the State Department just announced that the US Mission in China (Embassy Beijing, USCG Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang) has processed more than one million visa applications to date. US Mission Brazil is reportedly on track to become the third member of this very small club.

Consular Officers at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and our four consulates general in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenyang have processed more than one million visa applications to date in fiscal year 2012 while reducing the wait time for a visa interview appointment to approximately one week.

This extraordinary accomplishment represents visa processing growth of almost 43% over the same period last fiscal year, when we had processed just over 675,000 visa applications in China.

To achieve this, we increased staff, improved workflow, implemented a new pilot program waiving the in-person interview requirement in certain instances, and undertook other changes to our procedures – without compromising border security.

We are implementing permanent solutions to keep us ahead of the growing visa demand for years to come. During a June trip to China, the Department’s top consular official, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs, cut the ribbon on a reopened annex to our Embassy in Beijing, greatly increasing visa interview capacity.

China is not the only place where the State Department has achieved great success in meeting dramatic increases in visa demand. In Brazil, we have processed almost 44% more visa applications so far in FY 2012 than we did during the same period last year. In Mexico, we have processed 36% more visa applications. China and Mexico are the only two U.S. Missions that process more than one million visa applications each year, although Brazil is on track to become the third.

The accomplishments announced today reflect the Obama Administration’s commitment towards increasing U.S. jobs by encouraging more people to visit our country. For more information on the Obama Administration’s recent efforts to increase travel and tourism, please see http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/05/10/obama-administration-continues-efforts-increase-travel-and-tourism-unite.

The current wait time for NIV appointments across consular posts in China is between 2-3 days.   In Mexico City, it is 24 days. Last month, USCG Guadalajara, Mexico made it as the top #8 consular post on wait time at 47 days (h/t to Consular Corner).  In Brasilia, the wait time is one day.

In related news, applicants in the UAE complained of long wait to schedule visa appointments a year after the US consulate moved to a bigger facility in Bur Dubai that was supposed to make the process smoother (see Disgruntled residents call for speedier US visit visas). Abu Dhabi currently has a 36-day wait while Dubai has 28 days.  That’s still way faster than Havana, currently the top post on wait time at 999 days.

Domani Spero

Photo of the Day: One Does Not Belong

Via US Mission Brazil/Flickr: “U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman watches a Frevo performance and learns more about the culture of the Brazilian Northeast.”

(Photo: US Consulate – Recife)

Secret Service Scandal Slides Over Embassy Gate, Creeps into US Embassy Brasilia, US Embassy San Salvador and the Where Else Bar

Even under a rock, we managed to hear about the 24 Secret Service and military personnel accused of misconduct in the prostitution scandal in Cartagena, Colombia.

Then on April 25, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and told the panel that the incident involving as many as 20 women appeared to be an isolated case. She said the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility had never received previous complaints in the past 2 1/2 years. We don’t know why 2 1/2 year is significant.  But it’s good to know since apparently, according to the Secretary Napolitano, the Secret Service has provided protection on more than 900 foreign trips and 13,000 domestic trips.

In a closely watched developing news, Defense Secretary Panetta was in Brazil on April 24 and had a joint presscon with Brazilian Minister Amorim in Brasilia.  They entertained three questions and the first one was about U.S. Marines from the US Embassy in Brasilia allegedly injuring a prostitute in December last year.

U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Thomas A. Shannon Jr. greets U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta upon his arrival in Brasilia, Brazil, April 24, 2012. Panetta is on a five-day trip to the region to meet with counterparts and military officials in Colombia, Brazil and Chile to discuss an expansion of defense and security cooperations (DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

A reporter from TV Global asks: “Is the U.S. government going to act to punish the Marines involved here in Brasilia with prostitutes?”

Here is Secretary Panettta’s response:

“With regards to what you mentioned, obviously this incident was fully investigated and those that were involved have been punished and held accountable.  They are no longer in this country.  They were reduced in rank and they were severely punished for that behavior.  I have no tolerance for that kind of conduct, not here or any place in the world.  And where it takes place, you can be assured that we will act to make sure that they are punished and that that kind of behavior is not acceptable.”

Brazil’s News G1 globo.com has a report of this incident (in Portuguese) and aired a video with an interview of Romilda Aparecida Ferreira, the alleged victim and the subject of the question posted to Secretary Panetta.

From best we could tell from translated text, the woman was allegedly assaulted by officers of the U.S. Embassy at the end of last year. The case occurred four months ago after she met four embassy staffers in a nightclub where she worked as a dancer. The woman reportedly had an argument with the driver and she got dumped off the car and she fell and was injured.

Globo.com also says that the U.S. embassy through a statement (which we have difficulty locating online) acknowledge the case, said it had cooperated with the investigation and that the Americans involved in the case are no longer in Brazil. No charges were reportedly filed by the Brazilian authorities. The Foreign Ministry said it was not notified about the case.

VOA reported here that Defense officials say three U.S. Marines stationed at the U.S. embassy in Brazil and an embassy staffer picked up two prostitutes at a nightclub last December. One of the prostitutes says the men pushed her out of the car, and when she tried to re-enter the vehicle, she fell to the ground and was injured.

According to Secretary Panetta the Marines were “were reduced in rank.” The VOA report says that the U.S. embassy staff member was removed from his post and that injured prostitute has filed a lawsuit against the embassy in the wake of the Cartegena scandal.

The Brasilia incident, of course, made it to the Daily Press Briefing of April 25.

QUESTION: — for what Americans might consider the ongoing soap opera involving the Secret Service, except this doesn’t involve the Secret Service. We’re talking about three U.S. Marines who apparently have been punished as well as an employee of the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia who apparently were implicated in tossing a prostitute out of a moving car sometime last year. And I wanted to find out, since we know that the Marines have been punished, who was the employee of the Embassy? Was this person an American? Was this person a local hire? What can you say about a pending lawsuit now, apparently, against the Embassy?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, your report of the incident in question is not accurate in terms of what actually happened. Second, this is something that happened back in December. There was a State Department employee involved. The – we did cooperate fully with the appropriate Brazilian authorities, including with the civil police. None of the Americans involved in the incident are still in Brazil. The civil police, as I understand it, are still working on their case, and no charges have been brought by the Brazilian authorities.

We’ll come back to the DPB later in a separate post because it is interesting all in itself.

This story has now taken on a life of its own like, well, like a fast-sprouting magic tree with many limbs.

Late Wednesday, Kirotv.com out of Seattle claims it has an exclusive about strippers and the Secret Service advance team (snipers, K-9 and explosives sweeps) in San Salvador prior to President Obama’s trip there in March of 2011.

The bar owner reportedly told kirotv’s investigative reporter Chris Halsne (oh, he got names) that his club routinely takes care of high-ranking employees of the U.S. embassy in San Salvador as well as visiting FBI and DEA agents. The owner says his reputation for “security” and “privacy” makes him a popular strip club owner with “those who want to be discreet.”  Kirotv.com says it is currently writing and editing-together a series of television stories for air beginning at 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 26.

Next stop, the Where Else Bar … but hey, there’s a mad cow in California!

Domani Spero

 

Update: 4/16@10:18 pm
We’ve now seen the KiroTV exclusive – hey, they’re squeezing the juice out of that San Salvador trip; it’s like a drip, drip, drip of the same story. It is rather annoying.  It blares “New evidence expands Secret Service scandal” here. In Chris Halsne Reveals More on Secret Service piece, we get to see an interview with a retired Secret Service agent who boils this down to terrorism, and of course, there has to be footage of half naked dancing girls because it is the Lips Strip Club, and you just gotta show them half naked people doing the boogie. Sorry, no pole dancing included.

The reporter is shown talking to the strip club’s Salvadoran guard in English, he responds in Spanish, and we’re left to imagine what he said to the reporter.  The source is reportedly a bilingual subcontractor of the U.S. Secret Service whose identity has been kept confidential. Obviously, if he was a subcontractor of the Secret Service, they know who he is, so what’s the motive for his anonymity?  His face is fuzzy, and he’s now called a whistleblower. The news report also cites multiple witnesses but we only hear from the sub-contractor. We’re told that the owner of the strip club is an American named, DJ Ertel, who gave an interview but did not allow video footage. Since the club has a reputation for “security” and “privacy” and prides itself for being discreet, the interview does seem like reverse public relation.  The report did not even include important details such as hours of operation: 12:00pm-2:30am, daytime cover: $3.50; nighttime cover: $7.00; dance prices: $9; drink prices: $3. So no free advertising there (we did note that all prices are under $28).

As for the strip club not being too far from the embassy — if I heard it right, Lips is located on Paseo General Escalon, one of the main areas in San Salvador, the capital city of El Salvador, the smallest country in Central America. It’s so small that you can drive from end to end in a matter of hours! So yeah, the embassy and the club are practically neighbors. The end.

 

 

Visas for Dollars Pilot Program Needs a Catchy Name, Just Don’t Call It Visa Express, Please

In mid-January, President Obama announced new efforts to increase travel and tourism to the United States. The WH announcement pointed to this as “part of a comprehensive effort to spur job creation.” Note the huge emphasis on numbers:

The number of travelers from emerging economies with growing middle classes – such as China, Brazil, and India – is projected to grow by 135%, 274%, and 50% respectively by 2016 when compared to 2010.  Nationals from these three countries contributed approximately $15 billion dollars and thousands of jobs to the U.S. economy in 2010.  In addition, Chinese and Brazilian tourists currently spend more than $6,000 and $5,000 respectively each, per trip, according to the Department of Commerce. […] In the 2011 fiscal year, consular officers adjudicated more than a million visa applications in China and more than 800,000 in Brazil, representing 34 % growth in China and 42% growth in Brazil. Improving visa processing capacity for China and Brazil is particularly important because of this growth.

The WH has charged the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security with the following:

  • Increasing non-immigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40% in 2012.
  • Ensuring that 80% of non-immigrant visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of receipt of application.
  • Increasing efforts to expand the Visa Waiver Program and travel by nationals eligible to participate in the Visa Waiver Program, and expanding reciprocal trusted travel programs for expedited travel (such as the Global Entry program).

A preview of this efforts actually happened back in November when the State Dept trotted out its Managing Director for Visa Services Ed Ramotowski and two Minister Counselors for Consular Affairs, Chuck Bennett from US Embassy Beijing and Don Jacobson from US Embassy Brasilia to talk about growing visa demands in China and Brazil. What about India? More on that later.

From Ed Ramotowshi | State/CA/Visas

  • [C]onsular officers issued more than 7.5 million visas around the world’ represents a 17 percent increase over Fiscal Year 2010.
  • Since 2005, visa issuances went up by 42 percent
  • Approximately 65 percent of foreign travelers who come to this country don’t need visas. They come from Canada and countries in the Visa Waiver Program.
  • Goal is to expand capacity to adjudicate more than 2.2 million visas in China and 1.8 million visas in Brazil by 2013.

From Chuck Bennett | US Embassy Beijing 

  • US Mission China  adjudicated more than one million U.S. visas for Chinese applicants during Fiscal Year 2011; represents a 34 percent increase over last year
  • Issue visas to nearly 90 percent of all Chinese applicants who apply
  • Have added temporary staff and extended work hours
  • Over the next year, will add 50 more positions in China
  • In the process of adding 22 additional visa interview windows in Guangzhou, 20 new windows in Shanghai, 8 new windows in Chengdu, and 8 new windows in Beijing.

From Don Jacobson | US Embassy Brasilia

  • US Mission Brazil adjudicated more than 820,000 visas in the fiscal year that just ended, an increase of more than 42 percent over the previous year.
  • Goal in Brazil is to have the capacity to adjudicate more than 1.8 million visas by 2013
  • Since 2005, consular officer staffing in Brazil has doubled; will double again this year
  • In October alone, adjudicated more than 90,000 visas in Brazil, 67 percent more than October of last year (2010)
  • Adding more than 50 more consular officer positions over the coming year; estimates that one officer can process about 20,000 applications a year

There are currently about 50 officers in US Mission Brazil, so this increase would be a 100% bump in staffing.  US Mission China currently has about 100 officers with 50 more expected.  So where are these visa officers going to come from?

Here is what Mr. Bennett said:

Some of these people – many of these people are just new Foreign Service officers. And in the Foreign Service, often the first two tours in an officer’s career are spent doing consular work. We also have a new program where we’re bringing on, what we are calling, limited, non-career appointees. That is, people who are already trained in Mandarin Chinese and in Portuguese for Brazil, and these folks are coming in basically on one-year contracts, which are renewable for up to five years. They are going through all the same training that a Foreign Service officer would go through and some additional training. The advantage is that they already have language skills. And then based upon their performance, their contract can be renewed up to five years.

Mr. Ramotowski added:

One of our challenges in meeting demand both in Brazil and China is just we don’t have enough Chinese and Portuguese speakers coming in at the entry level who already have those languages. So this program is going to help us get more people on the ground quickly.

Okay, so now what about India which was mentioned by the President but was not invited to the preview party? According to Hindustantimes and other local papers, James Herman, Minister-Counselor for Consular Affairs had a press release following President Obama’s announcement touting a streamlined visa process plus the following US Mission India visa figures:

  • Over the last five years US Mission India increased staffing by over sixty percent; opened two new consulates in Hyderabad (in 2009) and Mumbai (in 2011).
  • Indians represent the highest volume of work visa travelers to the US; and the second highest number of foreign students in the United States
  • 2011 was a record year for H1B work visas—over 68,000 processed by Consular Team India alone
  • US Mission India processed close to 700,000 visa applications in 2011

We went looking for Mr. Herman’s official statement at the US Embassy Delhi website but it’s not available there or in the State Department’s website. We emailed the embassy inquiring where are these numbers cited by local reports but never got any response. Official statement released but not here or there or anywhere, must have been a new kind of secret presser.

Meanwhile the State Department’s Fact Sheet notes that the pilot program will streamline visa processing for certain low-risk applicants, such as individuals renewing expired visas, or some categories of younger or older first-time applicants. The expectation is that this will “benefit tens of thousands of applicants in Brazil and China; saving them time and money, and encouraging them to choose to visit the United States again.”  And spend money here, of course.  Perhaps anticipating a possible blow-back, a reminder from Visa Express post 9/11, the Fact Sheet adds this:  “…. given that national security remains this Administration’s highest priority, individuals identified as higher-risk will remain subject to interviews – in addition to the full screening and review all visa applicants receive.”

Even if all applicants are interviewed, that’s not the most important challenge. Thomas Furey, the Consul General at the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia from 2000-2001 was once quoted saying that the expectations for the visa interview are unrealistic because you are asking the Consular Officer to “predict the future.”  There is something to that.  The underwear bomber reportedly had a visa issued in 2004 and then again in 2008 prior to his attempted attack in 2009.  Had the attack succeeded, the supervisory Consular Officer who overturned the 2004 application and the Consular Officer who issued the visa in 2008 would have been dragged through live coals for not foreseeing the future. The shoe bomber, of course, came from a visa waiver country, and did not even need an interview.

Domani Spero