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China: Ambassador Baucus Catches Chengdu’s Famous Red Panda Pokemon With a Phone

Posted: 2:57 am ET

 

August 2016 photo via US Embassy Beijing’s website: Ambassador Baucus experiences local culture in Chengdu. Ambassador Baucus visited the famous Red Pandas of Chengdu 博卡斯大使观赏了成都著名的小熊猫.  

This is an enlarged version of the tiny photo posted on the embassy’s website.  Apologies if this looks pixelated.  We think that red fur is a real red panda walking away from a potential selfie.

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POTUS in China: A ‘Staircase Snub’, Shouting Matches, and an Apology For a ‘Mistaken’ Tweet

Posted: 2:30 am ET

 

 

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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.

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• 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.

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Killer Air in China: Pollution Kills an Average of 4,000/day x 365 = 1,460,000

Posted: 4:18 am EDT

 

Berkeley Earth released a study showing that air pollution kills an average of 4,000 people every day in China, 17% of all China’s deaths. For 38% of the population, the average air they breathe is “unhealthy” by U.S. standards. According to the study, the most harmful pollution is PM2.5, particulate matter 2.5 microns and smaller.  This penetrates deeply into lungs and triggers heart attacks, stroke, lung cancer and asthma.

“Beijing is only a moderate source PM 2.5 ; it receives much of its pollution from distant industrial areas, particularly Shijiazhuang, 200 miles to the southwest,” says Robert Rohde, coauthor of the paper.

“Air pollution is the greatest environmental disaster in the world today,” says Richard Muller, Scientific Director of Berkeley Earth, coauthor of the paper. “When I was last in Beijing, pollution was at the hazardous level; every hour of exposure reduced my life expectancy by 20 minutes. It’s as if every man, women, and child smoked 1.5 cigarettes each hour,” he said.

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Perhaps it’s time to revisit this Burn Bag submission?

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

Embassy Beijing and the five consulates general in China house one of the largest U.S. diplomatic presences in the world (no presence in Kunming and Nanjing).  Service in China includes a hardship differential (when conditions of the environment differ substantially from environmental conditions in the continental United States) for poor air quality among other things, ranging between 10-25% of basic compensation.

According to the 2010 OIG report, more than 30 U.S. Government agencies maintain offices and personnel in China; the total staff exceeds 2,000 employees. Consulates General Guangzhou and Shanghai are as large as many mid-sized embassies, each with more than 250 employees. Consulates General Chengdu and Shenyang are smaller but serve the important western and northern parts of the country respectively. Consulate General Wuhan, opened in 2008, is staffed by one American. Mission China is a fully accompanied post; we have no numbers on how many family members, including children are present at these posts.

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Related posts:

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

 

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

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

 

 

Photo of the Day: Casual Tuesday in Beijing

— Domani Spero

 

Secretary Kerry, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus visit the Great Wall of China prior to the U.S.-#China Strategic & Economic Dialogue. More photos here where our ambassador has, we’re told “clearly been cropped out of the photos …probably because he looks so ….so… really… a polo?”

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus as the three tour the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China after the Secretaries arrived in Beijing on July 8, 2014, for a two-day Strategic & Economic Dialogue with their Chinese counterparts. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus as the three tour the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China after the Secretaries arrived in Beijing on July 8, 2014, for a two-day Strategic & Economic Dialogue with their Chinese counterparts. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Maybe there’s a new dress code?

Photo via state.gov

Photo via state.gov

 

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US Mission China: Ambassador Max Baucus Says Hello and Xie Xie

— Domani Spero

The video below was produced by the Department of State’s Bureau of International Information Programs in March 2014. Speakers include Max Baucus and his wife, Melodee Hanes.

Via State/IIP:

“Former Senator from Montana, Max Baucus, returns to China as the U.S. ambassador with his wife, Melodee Hanes. While in China, the ambassador is very interested in working on a number of issues and seeing many different places. In this video he will tell you all about it. His wife will also tell you a little bit about the ambassador and just where you may find him running around – literally!”

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Confirmations: Baucus, Rivkin, Sewall, Stengel

— Domani Spero

 

On February 11, the U.S. Senate confirmed the following executive nominations for the State Department:

Previously on February 6, the Senate also confirmed the nomination of Max Sieben Baucus, of Montana, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the People’s Republic of China.

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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