The government of El Salvador will open a consulate in Woodbridge in mid-September to serve Northern Virginia's rapidly growing Salvadoran population.

"The idea is to decongest" the District office near Dupont Circle, where about 200 Salvadorans apply for passports and visas and seek help for problems each day, said Ana Margarita Chavez, the Salvadoran consul. Lines form there an hour before opening, Chavez said.

Prince William County was chosen for the new consulate because the Salvadoran population has been growing rapidly in the area as immigrants search for more affordable housing and find jobs in the county in construction, housekeeping and business.

The office, at 14572 Potomac Mills Rd. No. 12, near the Potomac Mills mall, will serve Salvadorans living as far away as Tennessee and North Carolina.

In addition to Salvadoran restaurants and grocery stores, Woodbridge has Prince William's first branch of a Salvadoran money-wiring service operated by Bancomercio. The office opened in June in a Woodbridge shopping center and already serves about 3,000 people each month. Customers wire money to El Salvador and other Latin American countries.

Bancomercio will open another branch in Manassas on Centreville Road next month; the bank expects to serve as many as 10,000 customers a month there.

"You can't even predict how fast it will grow," said Daniel Cardenas, administrative manager of Bancomercio's U.S. operations.

Bancomercio now operates 10 branches in the region, Cardenas said.

-- JENALIA MORENO