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Smooth running at U.S. Consulate, despite heavy workload

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-06-26

The United States Consulate General is here to assist Americans during emergencies and also provide a variety of services. The most common of these services is passport and visa processing.

Here on Okinawa, the U.S. Consulate produces approximately 6,000 passports annually, one of the highest rates of productivity for passport production among all U.S. Consulates in the world. The unusually high number is due to the large presence of U.S. Military personnel here on the island, creating a very unique situation compared to other American Consulate posts.

Because SOFA status does not require U.S. Military Service members to hold a passport while in Japan, many Americans apply for their first passport after arriving on Okinawa. Despite the workload, the U.S. Consulate is still able to issue a passport usually within one week after the application has been received.

U.S. Military members going abroad for training exercises or any other work related matters must apply for an official passport. The application process has been made very efficient through the use of a courier system available to each of the four branches of the military. The system saves time by allowing U.S. Armed Forces personnel to apply for their passport at any one of the courier offices located on military bases.

Although the passport application process is fairly simple, there are a few tips that can help to prevent delays. According to Vice Consul Alan Holst, proper evidence of citizenship is one document that applicants should have ready.

"An official birth certificate is needed for proof of U.S. citizenship. The U.S. Consulate does not accept copies of birth certificates or certificates received from hospitals. It must be the official birth certificate from the town or city of where you were born," said Holst.

Foreign nationals applying for immigrant visas also should be aware that proper documentation of the necessary requirements is one way to ensure a speedy application process. The person applying for the visa must go through two steps; the first being a petition filed by a spouse or family member with American citizenship. Once it has been established that the applicant meets the criteria for an immigrant visa, step two can be initiated. The petition for an immigrant visa can be kept on file indefinitely, but step two of the process must be completed within one year from the time the application is filed.

Some of the requirements include an affidavit of support, showing that a sponsor has the financial resources to cover any emergency and general living expenses incurred by the immigrant visa holder. The sponsor must produce a record of income taxes filed for the last three years. If the applicant does not have the necessary monetary funds required for their stay in the United States, or if employment has not already been secured, a co-sponsor is necessary. The co-sponsor must meet the same requirements and obligations set for a sponsor. A police check is also mandatory for applicants over the age of sixteen from all countries they have resided in for over six months, including the applicant's country of residence.

Holst also mentioned that although SOFA status personnel are provided with emergency medical and legal care through the U.S. Military, there are many non-SOFA status Americans that reside in Okinawa who are eligible to receive emergency help from the US. Consulate.

"If an American has been arrested, the Consulate will monitor the situation to make sure that they get the same treatment as a local national," explained Holst. "We can refer English speaking doctors and lawyers, and act as a liaison." The Vice Consul pointed out, however, that the U.S. Consulate does not pay for medical expenses or legal fees.

Vice Consul Holst stated that the U.S. Consulate is there to support all Americans. "We want non-SOFA status Americans to know that we are here for emergencies. We will help in any way we can."

For more information on passport and visa applications, or on other related matters, please call the U.S. Consulate at 876-4211.

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