Listen to stories from the State Department and you might turn your travel plans inward, to domestic destinations. Last year, the agency helped the family members of 10,000 civilians who died overseas. In South Asia, it rescued three citizens from forced marriages and sheltered a mother and her children in danger in Africa. It assisted tourists wounded in the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels and safeguarded Americans in Syria, Mali and Burkina Faso.
Despite the risks, more and more Americans are looking outward, across oceans and borders. Nearly 130 million citizens — or 2 in 5 — hold a passport. The department will issue 17 million books this year, and it expects the number of applications to rise to 21 million in 2017.
“Applications are at record levels,” Secretary of State John F. Kerry said during a recent meeting at the Washington Passport Agency. “And wait times are low.”
The lag between submit and receive used to be three months; it is now about six weeks.
To assist and protect Americans abroad, Kerry announced a new program called MissionOne. The initiative will expand and modernize its services to Americans. For example, it will bolster the American Liaison Network, a web of expat civilians who work in concert with embassies and consulates to aid U.S. travelers. The wardens will assume greater responsibilities in their role as intermediaries; they also earn a new name tag, Citizen Liaison Volunteers.
“CLVs will work with U.S. embassies and consulates to identify the needs of the U.S. citizen community so that we may more effectively work to address security, safety, and health issues that affect U.S. citizens,” the department stated in a news release.
MissionOne will also provide a more inclusive compendium of information under the Local Resources Initiative. Embassies around the globe will compile lists of contacts for such essential needs as medical care, crisis counseling, police and shelters. The U.S. Embassy in London is a prime example. It posts links on topics including marriage and civil partnerships, money transfers and relocation services.
In 2017, the department will focus on creating an online passport renewal system, which will expedite the process. To protect passports from fraud and tampering, it will implement a redesign with a polycarbonate data page, laser engravings, micro-text and special inks.
Before departing, Kerry looked at his staff and said, “21 million.” Then he grinned and pointed a finger at the crowd as if saying, “We got this.”
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