On-line system aims to reduce delays at US Consulate

The US Consulate General in Jerusalem announced a new on-line appointment system on Tuesday intended to increase the efficiency of services provided to American citizens living in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. As of August 6, the consulate will require all individuals seeking to obtain a passport, report a birth abroad, or notary service to have an appointment made in advance. The consulate, located on Nablus Road in east Jerusalem, serves an estimated population of 85,000 American citizens. Under the old system, Americans had to wait as long as four hours for services, often being sent home due to a lack of handling capacity. Under the new system, the consulate will refuse to see any clients who do not have an appointment made on-line. "Our goal is to cut down the amount of people who wait," said Tiffany Bartish, the consul for American Citizen Services, adding, "We hope to see more clients each year." Appointments can be made free of charge by accessing jerusalem.usconsulate.gov and clicking on "US Citizen Services." Appointment slots will be available in 15-minute increments, allowing the user to pick among available times up to a month in advance. Once an appointment is made, the user must print a receipt to be presented at the front gate of the consulate on the day of the appointment. Separate appointments need to be made for each individual service. Links on the Web site are available for passport expedition and other special cases. The capital's US Consulate General will be one of the first to implement the new appointment system. The Tel Aviv consular district, which serves an estimated 110,000 Americans within the Green Line, converted to the system a little over a month ago. While the system has enabled the Tel Aviv office to reduce congestion for services, it still has challenges to be overcome. Due to budget constraints, appointments are only available on-line, making things difficult for Americans, particularly the elderly, who do not have access to the Internet. "There will be a learning curve with the new system," said Bartish, who felt confident that "once people get the hang of it, it will work to everyone's benefit." The new appointment system in Jerusalem will face political challenges not seen the Tel Aviv district. While the consulate aims to serve all Americans in the West Bank, Jews and Palestinians alike, appointment times can be compromised by lengthy checkpoint inspections for those Americans living in Palestinian areas. Anticipating such a problem, the consulate has urged Israeli authorities to hasten the process for those Americans in possession of a printed receipt confirming an appointment. For Americans living outside the Green Line who are unable to travel to east Jerusalem, off-site reservations can be requested by e-mailing the consulate directly. In the past, Americans in Gaza were able to receive consular services at the Erez crossing in the northern Strip. For the moment, the consulate has suspended such appointments due to the continuing unrest within Gaza, although officials are hopeful appointments will be resumed in the near future. Bartish sees the new system enhancing the ability of the consulate to better serve Americans living outside the Green Line. "The new appointment system is a positive change for us and a positive change for the citizens we serve," she said. While appointments can only be made on-line, in the event of an emergency, US citizens are still encouraged to come to the consulate. For those who are elderly or infirm and do not have access to the internet, the consulate will still accept appointment reservations via telephone, though only on a case by case basis.