US citizens residing in Israel and the Palestinian Authority who want to register the births of their newborn babies with the State Department are in for a long wait. An appointments-only system was introduced by US consular services in July, and birth registration and first-time passports for newborns are taking more than six months to process, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The new system, which requires US citizens to make individual appointments for each service and each family member, has seen parents waiting for more than half a year to get an appointment just to obtain a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (the equivalent of a birth certificate) and the first-time passport essential for travel to the US. The US Consulate Web site recommends "that the birth of your child be reported to this embassy as soon as possible after the birth." Attempts by the Post this week to book an appointment at the consulate in Jerusalem to register a birth found that the earliest available date is August 5, with consular services in Tel Aviv not offering any appointments at all. "My wife wanted to travel to see her family in the US with our newborn baby during the last month of her maternity leave [in February], but the earliest appointment we could get is in July," said one former US resident, whose baby was born on December 12. "I would rather spend a few hours waiting at the consulate than wait six months for an appointment." In the past, US expatriates could just show up, either in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, on days allotted for registering births. While they sometimes had to line up outside for hours, at least they would be seen on that day and issued their documentation within a few weeks. The extended waiting time under the new system has caused real difficulties among the thousands of US citizens living here, with members of the haredi community even setting up a "Consulate Appointment G'mach (mutual assistance society)," to provide help to those in desperate need of an appointment (at [email protected]). An article published last week on the Yeshiva World News Web site urged Americans to here to "bombard" the Tel Aviv embassy and the Jerusalem consulate with phone calls and e-mails requesting that this situation be rectified. It also encouraged people to raise the issue with their senators and congressmen. In response, Christina Higgins, assistant information officer at the US Consulate General in Jerusalem, told the Post the consulate was "dedicated to serving the needs of American citizens living in its consular district [Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip] as efficiently as possible." (The US Embassy in Tel Aviv provides consular services for the rest of Israel.) Higgins said the change was a response to the high demand for American citizen services such as passport issuance. "The purpose of the system is to provide equitable access to services and limited day-of-service waiting for the more than 90,000 Americans registered in the consular district [of Jerusalem]," she said, adding that "should an American citizen have a genuine emergency and need to schedule an appointment before the date available through the on-line service, he or she is asked to send an e-mail to [email protected] and an earlier appointment may be possible." For those in the Tel Aviv region, there is an on-line option for emergencies appointments. Part of the problem noted in the article on Yeshiva World News is that some people - unsure of when their babies will be born - have booked several appointments. Higgins called on American citizens to "refrain from making multiple appointments for the same service," a practice that "is currently increasing wait times for appointments." The Post has learned that some people are booking multiple appointments and then selling them. While Higgins said she was not familiar with such a practice, one Jerusalem woman desperate to travel to the US with her newborn was offered an appointment for NIS 120. "I put a posting on [Jerusalem-based Web site] Janglo asking if anyone knew how I could get an appointment as soon as possible to register my baby," said Dena Ackerman, who gave birth two months ago and has to travel to the US for her brother's wedding in March. "One woman wrote back and said she could give me her appointment in Tel Aviv, another woman said she knew of a lady selling an appointment but that she would charge me NIS 120 for it." Ackerman took the Tel Aviv appointment without paying, but when she arrived at the embassy in December, the clerk asked her how she got an appointment so quickly. "They asked me if I had paid for it," she said. "Even though my process is completed, I feel really bad for people who are struggling with this."