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(photo credit: Nefesh B'Nefesh)
The US Consulate in Jerusalem announced Monday that it was entertaining a number of options to address the lengthy waiting time currently faced by US citizens residing in Israel and the Palestinian Authority attempting to register newborn babies.
However, the US State Department would not contemplate returning to a non-Web-based appointment system.
"The State Department is not going back from electronic applications," Jerusalem's consular section chief Thomas Rogan said, at a press conference convened to address a situation that has left parents waiting over six months for an appointment just to obtain a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (the equivalent of a birth certificate) and a first-time passport essential for traveling to the US. "The only way we can address the demand is by using modern technology," he added.
According to Rogan, the new online appointment system, which was initiated last July, has generally improved US consular services in areas such as passport renewal and visa applications and has reduced in-office waiting times from four hours to two.
However, he said that a surge in applications and a lack of consular staff were factors that had contributed to lengthy waiting times and lack of appointments for registering newborn babies.
"I am very unhappy about this and this is not what we want for our citizens here," admitted Rogan, adding that a 2005 decision to grant US citizens residing abroad with a Child Tax Credit had likely caused previously unregistered US citizens here to apply for birth certificates and passports.
He also said that the Jerusalem consulate's current facility on Derech Shechem in east Jerusalem and its meager staff of only 30 - dealing with both services for US citizens and visas to the US - cannot always meet the demand for services from some 90,000 US citizens residing in the consulate area of Jerusalem, as well as the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
He did not comment on the situation at the US Consulate in Tel Aviv.
"We hope that the holdup will work its way through and that the current lengthy wait will only be temporary," said Rogan, highlighting that current construction on a new consular center in the west Jerusalem neighborhood of Arnona, which is expected to open towards the end of this year, may contribute to easing the problem.
"[The new building] will definitely provide a more pleasant waiting environment and working place for our staff. It will help ease the pressure but to what degree I cannot say. We are not expecting any staff increases at this point."
Currently, the US Consulate in Jerusalem deals with 20 reports of birth per day and roughly 5,000 applications a year, said Rogan. "It is a little less than is necessary but we are hoping to program more appointments soon."
As well as adding more appointments for registering births, which Rogan said would come at the cost of appointments for other US consular services, he also said that people booking multiple slots and "entrepreneurs selling appointments" had caused an increase in waiting time.
Rogan called on the public to refrain from booking duplicate appointments and to stop bombarding the offices with "coordinated e-mail and telephone campaigns."
Although he would not elaborate on specific plans for reducing waiting time, Rogan emphasized that people who currently needed to travel for a medical emergency, including bereavements, could send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or arrive without an appointment at the consulate offices and state their case.
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