For many citizens in overseas countries, the Foreign Service Consular Officer is the principal diplomat they will (ever) interact with. Adjudicators of visas and primary support to U.S. citizens abroad, the Consular Officer must hold a broad range of skills. Unlike the other career tracks, acting as a Consular Officer for your first or two tours is a “rite of passage” for most entry-level officers.
What follows are three written pieces, by the Department of State (DoS), the American Foreign Service Association, and the DoS “Becoming a Foreign Service Officer” brochure, to assist you in better understanding what the Consular Officer does.
Department of State Main Website
Strategic thinkers and crisis managers who protect U.S. citizens and interests abroad.
As a Consular Officer, you’ll use your problem-solving and managerial skills along with your sense of public service to address challenges facing U.S. citizens who are traveling, living, or conducting business abroad.
Myth: Consular Officers spend their days stamping passports and issuing visas.
Reality: Consular Officers make judgments about foreign nationals who want to travel to the United States. They also facilitate adoptions, help evacuate Americans, combat fraud to protect our borders, and fight human trafficking. Consular Officers touch people’s lives in important ways, often reassuring families in crisis.
As you learn new skills and enjoy outstanding benefits, you’ll handle diverse challenges such as child custody disputes, arrests, travel advisories, and emergencies, in addition to:
- Working with local officials to facilitate legitimate business, educational, and tourist travel, strengthen our border security, and protect Americans.
- Acquiring and applying expertise in local laws, culture, and economic and political conditions to make prompt, informed decisions affecting the lives of foreign citizens and Americans abroad.
- Helping U.S. citizens with family reunification, in medical emergencies, and evacuations.
- Visiting arrested Americans and ensuring access to legal counsel.
- Leading a multi-cultural and highly qualified staff in developing innovative practices to protect U.S. citizens and borders.
- Combining problem solving and managerial skills with knowledge of U.S. and host country laws/procedures to find solutions to problems American citizens face abroad.
- Adapting new technologies to manage consular operations, improving customer service and ensuring border security.
- Applying knowledge of host country and U.S. immigration law and procedures to facilitate legitimate travel to the United States while applying appropriate measures to protect U.S. borders.
- Reporting to Washington on the full range of consular issues, for instance, fraud trends, visa and passport workload, or delicate American citizen cases involving victims of crime or child abductions.
- Monitoring security issues that threaten the safety of Americans abroad, and ensuring that Americans have access to timely, accurate information to make decisions concerning travel and activities.
The American Foreign Service Association
Consular officers are our face to the world. They are often the first and only Americans a foreign citizen will ever meet at an embassy. They may also be the only diplomat an American ever meets when traveling overseas. Being the face of America to the world and the face of the Foreign Service to the traveling American public is a privilege and responsibility. Deciding who does and does not get a visa, consular officers are also on the front lines promoting U.S. business interests, tourism, and educational exchanges, while protecting American borders from those who seek to break U.S. immigration laws and perhaps do us harm.
Consular officers help Americans in distress. When a fellow citizen has been arrested, hospitalized, or has fallen victim to crime overseas, the consular officer is there to help, working with local authorities, calming nerves, and helping to make decisions. If a natural disaster, major accident, or civil unrest forces an evacuation from a foreign country, it is the consular officer who takes charge. Consular officers also perform notary services for fellow Americans, issue reports of birth and death abroad, and replace lost or stolen passports. They are witnesses to the happiest and saddest occasions in the lives of our fellow citizens overseas. They see the joy of the American parent who has just received an immigrant visa for the baby he has adopted. They may be the first to deliver the news that a loved one has died overseas.
Given these responsibilities, a consular officer is part attorney and part counselor. The work can be adrenaline-charged and stressful. Successful consular officers have good crisis management, foreign-language, and people skills. Of all our colleagues, it is often the consular officers who have the best Foreign Service stories.
Diplomats generally spend the first two to four years of their career doing consular work because the need is so great. A rite of passage for FSOs, the consular tour provides a common bonding experience. Many officers love the work so much that they never leave it.
Becoming a Foreign Service Officer Brochure
Following is an overview of a potential progression as an Consular Officer:
- Supervise several locally-hired employees
- Adjudicate visas
- Assist American citizens living or visiting overseas who find themselves in emergency situations involving arrests, hospitalization and major accidents and provide non-emergency services, such as reports of birth, passport applications and notarial services
- Respond to inquiries from a range of sources including attorneys, congressional offices, business contacts and host government officials
- Combat consular fraud
- Manage a small consular section or part of a large one, such as the American Citizen Services (ACS), anti-fraud, or visa unit
- Supervise American entry-level officers and Locally Engaged Staff (LES)
- Make complex decisions regarding visas and services for American citizens and resolve challenging management issues involving workflow and human resources
- If posted to Washington, D.C., you will support Consular Officers in the field on visa, ACS, fraud and management issues
- Manage a large consular section, supervise a number of American officers and local staff members and be part of the embassy’s senior management
- Serve as an office director or part of the senior staff within the Consular Affairs Bureau in Washington, which advises on all consular matters
- Engage in a variety of public outreach functions, such as speaking to the press or to American organizations
- As with senior officers in other career tracks, you may be a Deputy Chief of Mission or Ambassador, or a Principal Officer at a large U.S. consulate
Looking for more information?
Along with the publications listed above as great resources to review, FSO Compass has interviews with current and former diplomats to help you gain a better idea of what the role is all about.
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