Functions of U.S. Consular Officers Abroad
United States embassies worldwide all have a consular section. Consular officers serve primarily to assist U.S. citizens who are either traveling or residing abroad. In addition, consular officers issue visas to foreigners who would like to travel to and/or reside in the United States. For U.S. citizens abroad, the services that consulates provide can be a vital source of aid.
Consuls provide a wide range of emergency services to U.S. citizens abroad, including:
- Replacement of lost passports, generally within 24 hours
- Help finding medical assistance
- Help contacting family, bank or employer if money is lost
- Finding citizens in case of a family emergency at home
- Visiting citizens in jail should they be arrested, and providing a list of local lawyers
- Notifying the family of a citizen who dies abroad
- Issuing public announcements by the U.S. Department of State, warning citizens as to heightened security and cautioning them against traveling overseas during times of national crisis, such as threats of terrorism
Some non-emergency services that consuls provide include:
- Issuing a “Report of Birth Abroad of a U.S. Citizen” to a child born abroad whose parents are U.S. citizens, as proof of U.S. citizenship for that child
- Issuing passports to those whose passports have expired
- Assisting with absentee voting
- Providing U.S. tax forms
Despite the latitude afforded a consul to assist U.S. citizens and their families, a consul is obligated under the Privacy Act to refrain from revealing any personal information regarding a U.S. citizen’s location, welfare or problems without the citizen’s express consent. As a result, concerned families of U.S. citizens abroad can often become quite frustrated upon inquiring as to the welfare of their family member.
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