When my mom, friends or family ask me what we do for work, I just tell them, "we help Americans abroad". That's the simple answer to the complex work undertaken by consular officers at more than 200 US Embassies and consulates around the world. So while many people still think a consular officer just stamps passports all day long, it's a lot more than that.
Consular Officers fall under the authority of the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA).
Safety. Security. Service. Our highest priority is to protect the lives and interests of U.S. citizens overseas. We do this through routine and emergency services to Americans at our embassies and consulates around the world. We serve our fellow citizens during their most important moments – births, deaths, disasters, arrests, and medical emergencies.
Consular work is divided into several specialities, the main ones being American Citizen Services (ACS), Non-Immigrant Visas (NIV), Immigrant Visas (IV) and Fraud Prevention (FPU). At a smaller embassy or consulate, one person may be doing all of the above jobs. But at a larger embassy, there are often separate ACS, NIV, IV and FPU sections, some with dozens of employees.
For nearly a year, Mr. & Mrs. Crab have both been working in the ACS Section of Embassy Seoul. Mr. Crab is a Consular Officer, while Mrs. Crab is a Consular Associate, an EFM (Eligible Family Member) job that has almost all the same powers and responsibilities as an officer.
As the name implies, ACS deals specifically with American citizens (known as "AmCits" in our field) living, working or traveling through our consular district. The most visible part of the job are the "routine" passport services we provide such as issuing and renewing US Passports, extra visa pages, notarizing documents, and issuing Consular Reports of Birth Abroad (CRBA) for our newest little citizens. Routine services also includes renunciations and relinquishment of U.S. citizenship. In Seoul, we provide routine consular services at the embassy, and also at other major Korean cities and US military bases around Korea as part of our outreach services.
Behind the scenes is the other half of ACS work: Special Citizen Services, or SCS. These are the most difficult and challenging cases that a consular officer will handle during their career including arrest, hospitalization or death of Americans, victims of crime including rape and sexual assault, destitute or homeless Americans, domestic violence issues, international parental child abduction, missing people reports, deportations, transfer of AmCit prisoners, etc. Many of these cases are further complicated if the individual is mentally ill or has substance abuse problems. The most unpleasant task I've had to do is call an American in the United States and deliver the bad news that their child, parent or loved one has died overseas; it never gets any easier.
If an American becomes an embassy "SCS case" - it's rarely good news. That said, SCS cases can also be the most rewarding, i.e. successfully repatriating a sick or destitute American and reuniting families. And sometimes, SCS cases can be the most entertaining - our fellow Americans get themselves into all manners & sorts of trouble overseas - some of them truly unbelievable! A sense of humor is an absolute must for working in Consular! And, yes, it's true - consular officers have the best stories.
Apart from routine and SCS cases, we also spend a lot of time on special projects, such as writing and disseminating information to Americans via our monthly newsletters or social media, meeting with local contacts, visiting hospitals, homeless shelters, hostels as potential resources for Americans who need help in Korea. As Voting Officer, I also work to encourage Americans abroad to register to vote by absentee ballot. We also plan and train for the worst case scenario: evacuation of Americans in times of crisis such as war or natural disaster. Consular Officers can also expect to take assist with VIP visits (President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Kerry have all visited Seoul in the past 6 months).
So that's an ACS Officer's duties and responsibilities in a nutshell. It can be challenging and frustrating, but my work in ACS has been the best and most rewarding job I've done.