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Loving Life as a Foreign Service Family – Current Parallel 6° 27' North- Lagos, Nigeria

What is a Consular Officer?

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A few people have asked me what my title will be, and what I will be doing for the Foreign Service.  My official diplomatic title will be Vice Consul.  The consular section of the US Consulate in Lagos provides the full spectrum of consular services.  I recently completed the Basic Consular Officer Course, known as ConGen.  After the initial orientation course (A-100), and courses teaching me about the area of the world in which I’ll be serving and teaching me how to handle emergency situations, it was nice to spend 6 weeks focusing on what my day to day job will be.

From the mission statement for the Bureau of Consular Affairs: “The mission of the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) is to provide consular services that most efficiently and effectively protect U.S. citizens, ensure U.S. border security, facilitate the entry of legitimate travelers, and foster economic growth.”

I know I have many friends and family who enjoy international travel, so let me take a moment to implore you to enroll in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) when you do.  I’ll go over what STEP is lower in the post.

What I’ll be doing can generally be broken down into three broad categories.

Visa Services

I’ll adjudicate a LOT of visas.  Nearly everyone who wants to visit the United States, and everyone who wants to Immigrate to the United States, needs a visa to do so.  Consular Officers interview these visa applicants to determine whether their intended purpose of travel falls within those allowed by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), and whether the applicant is subject to an ineligibility for a visa.  I’ll be expected to be thorough and careful in my interviews, but I’ll also be expected to do them quickly, ultimately over 100 per day as I get better at it, so over the next two years I will interview somewhere in the neighborhood of 45,000 applicants.

Citizenship Services

I’ll adjudicate citizenship of the children of US Citizens born abroad.  The Immigration and Nationality Act provides for 2 basic ways a person can be a US Citizen at birth.  (1) they can be born in the United States.  (2) they can be born to a US Citizen parent abroad, under circumstances that allow the parent to transmit his or her citizenship to the child.  I was surprised to learn that not all children of US Citizens are automatically entitled to citizenship.  I will not be able to grant citizenship to anyone who wasn’t a citizen at birth (that can only be done by US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is an agency of the Department of Homeland Security), but I will be able to adjudicate whether or not a child was a citizen at birth.  I’ll also be able to adjudicate and issue passports, both first passports or renewals, for US Citizens.

Special Consular Services

I’ll be the 1-stop-shop for US Citizens in need in Lagos.  Consular officers draft the State Department Travel Warnings that give information about conditions in other countries and possible risks to US Citizens.  When they are arrested, we visit them in jail.  When they are victims of crime, we give them comfort.  When they lose their passport or have it stolen, we can print them an emergency passport to get them home. When natural disasters or political violence strike, we seek out US Citizens, check on them, help them get medical treatment or other assistance as needed, and in extreme situations we coordinate evacuations.  We assist with international adoptions.  We help find lost US Citizens.  We work with the host government in cases of international parental child abduction.  We notify the next of kin of the deaths of US Citizens overseas and help repatriate their remains.  We perform notarial acts for US Citizens overseas.  Take a look at travel.state.gov.  Essentially, if a service is discussed there, I will be involved in performing that service.

ConGen

As I said, the Basic Consular Course was fantastic.  We read the report of the 9/11 commission and “lessons learned” cables from posts around the world, to emphasize to us that each decision we make as consular officers is a National Security decision.  We learned about all of the classifications of Non-Immigrant and Immigrant visas provided for under the INA.  We learned about ineligibilities.  We learned about the vetting process that we will go through with each and every applicant.  We did a LOT of role-plays at mock-interview windows.  We practiced adjudicating visas and passports.  We learned to issue Consular Reports of Birth Abroad.  We practiced death notifications.  We practiced a jail visit in a mock-jail cell.  We practiced dealing with natural disasters and bus accidents.  We spent hours and hours learning to find the guidance in the Foreign Affairs Manual that we need to deal with cases.  We practiced writing Travel Advisories.  We learned about STEP.  We took exams.  We voted on awards, including “best acting in a visa role-play,” “best acting in a passport role-play,” “most likely to wrestle a wild animal to protect a US Citizen,” and more.  I worked hard, and was able to get 100% on all of the exams, earning me (along with 2 other colleagues) the title of valedictorian.  I guess my lawyer past was showing through, as I was also voted “most likely to have a home subscription to the INA,” (and in fact, I was given my very own copy of the Immigration and Nationality Act).

STEP

As promised, more detail on the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.  It is found at step.state.gov.   Please, before going on any international travel, take a few moments and enroll.  It is free.  It gives us your contact info so that we can get important information about safety conditions in the countries you visit to you in a timely manner.  It lets us know you are in country, so that if there is a natural disaster we can find you and help you more quickly.  It will help us help your family or friends get in touch with you if there is an emergency.

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