This video blog by Zoetic lists countries where it is difficult to travel on a US passport. Great information – including citing travel.state.gov. I like the way he notes that except for North Korea where there is no US Embassy, these countries are worth the visa wait.
A critical factor in keeping Americans safe is sufficient career officers applying experience and country knowledge. This is as true for consular affairs as it is for other diplomatic functions. Here is a launch of a report by the American Academy of Diplomacy. Scary part? It was published in 2015. Access the full or abridged report here.
On 18 January, 1-800Home honored our US Consular Corps with our guest of honor Ron Packowitz, Head of US Citizen Services at the Embassy in London. Our annual recognition is for the entire service but there are also awards for extraordinary consuls. The Thomas Jefferson Award named for our first Secretary of State is presented by the US based American Citizens Abroad (ACA). It is given to US consuls who have made a difference to the American community in the countries where they serve as a tribute to Jefferson’s own time as Ambassador to France.
The award is not annual and was most recently bestowed in 2016 to Ambassador Philip T Reeker, who was Consul General in Milan at the time. Here is the citation
Ambassador Reeker has been recognized by the community of Americans living in Milan and Lombardy Italy for his service in meeting the demands of the steady growth for consular services, his commitment to diplomatic engagement and commercial outreach. Ambassador Reeker has shown a genuine interest in a wide range of fields – arts, commerce, finance, history and his willingness to be a gateway between Italy and the United States has helped advance the important relations between these two countries.
Consuls General have a wider responsibility than citizen services but the protection of US citizens is first and we can see why. According to IRS figures about 50,000 Americans live in Italy but over 4 million visit each year and Italy saw increased world-wide visitor numbers in 2017. Oh and let’s not forget that Italy is one of the top ten destinations for young Americans studying abroad. That would certainly explain the ‘steady growth’ in demand by US citizens for consular services. We applaud both the ACA and citizens in Italy who brought Mr Rekker’s care of the US community to their attention.
If you wish to recognize an individual or an entire consular section, please tweet it @One800Home
In 2005 the Senate Foreign Relations committee received testimony about the actions of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs to the Tsunami in Asia. They learned that the State Department had a consular task force to handle inquiries from American citizens within 24 hours. In the first week consular officials handled 30,000 inquiries about missing Americans. Of those tens of thousands of initial inquiries, they dealt with 15,112 inquiries on specific individuals trying to determine they had perished.
This remarkable response was facilitated by CA’s standing practice of keeping “fly-away” teams on standby for crisis response. In the tsunami case, given the distance from Washington to the impact zone, CA initially deployed personnel to affected areas from neighboring Asian countries. We then sent in personnel from Washington as well as some from elsewhere who had specific language fluency. As in many crises, consular personnel were frequently assisted by locally resident American citizens who volunteer their services to help fellow citizens through the “warden” program. The volunteer wardens were helpful in getting messages to other Americans asking them to phone home and reassure loved ones that they were okay.
As rapid and well organised as their response had been however, the State Department recognised that the use of digital technology was essential to improving their ability to reach Americans in like disaster scenarios. Twelve years later State’s digital engagement team used Reddit, Facebook and the @travelgov and the @USAinUK to locate and assist Americans during the attacks in the city of Manchester. The people at Consular Affairs in Washington DC and in embassies around the world are always looking for ways to improve their response to emergencies.