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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
1995 APRIL: THE OFFICE OF OVERSEAS CITIZENS SERVICES
BUREAU OF CONSULAR AFFAIRS
The Office of Overseas Citizens Services
When You Need Help
Overseas Citizens Services
Overseas Citizens Services (OCS) in the State Department's Bureau of
Consular Affairs is responsible for the welfare and whereabouts of U.S.
citizens traveling and residing abroad. OCS has three offices:
American Citizens Services and Crisis Management, the Office of
Children's Issues and the Office of Policy Review and Interagency
AMERICAN CITIZENS SERVICES AND CRISIS MANAGEMENT (ACS)
American Citizens Services and Crisis Management corresponds
organizationally to American Citizens Services offices set up at U.S.
embassies and consulates throughout the world. ACS has six geographical
divisions with case officers who assist in all matters involving
protective services for Americans abroad, including arrests, death
cases, financial or medical emergencies, and welfare and whereabouts
inquiries. The office also issues Travel Warnings and Consular
Information Sheets and provides guidance on nationality and citizenship
determination, document issuance, judicial and notarial services,
estates and property claims, third-country representation, and disaster
Over 2,500 Americans are arrested abroad annually. More than 30% of
these arrests are drug related. Over 70% of drug related arrests
involve marijuana or cocaine.
The rights an American enjoys in this country do not travel abroad.
Each country is sovereign and its laws apply to everyone who enters
regardless of nationality. The U.S. government cannot get Americans
released from foreign jails. However, a U.S. consul will insist on
prompt access to an arrested American, provide a list of attorneys, and
provide information on the host country's legal system, offer to contact
the arrested American's family or friends, visit on a regular basis,
protest mistreatment, monitor jail conditions, provide dietary
supplements, if needed, and keep the State Department informed.
ACS is the point of contact in the U.S. for family members and others
who are concerned about a U.S. citizen arrested abroad.
Approximately 6,000 Americans die outside of the U.S. each year. The
majority of these are long-term residents of a foreign country. ACS
assists with the return of remains for approximately 2,000 Americans
When an American dies abroad, a consular officer notifies the next of
kin about options and costs for disposition of remains. Costs for
preparing and returning a body to the U.S. are high and are the
responsibility of the family. Often local laws and procedures make
returning a body to the U.S. for burial a lengthy process.
If destitute, Americans can turn to a U.S. consular officer abroad for
help. ACS will help by contacting the destitute person's family,
friends, or business associates to raise private funds. It will help
transmit these funds to destitute Americans.
ACS transfers approximately 3 million dollars a year in private
emergency funds. It can approve small government loans to destitute
Americans abroad until private funds arrive.
ACS also approves repatriation loans to pay for destitute Americans'
direct return to the U.S. Each year over $500,000 are loaned to
o Medical Assistance
ACS works with U.S. consuls abroad to assist Americans who become
physically or mentally ill while traveling. ACS locates family members,
guardians, and friends in the U.S., assists in transmitting private
funds, and, when necessary, assists in arranging the return of ill or
injured Americans to the U.S. by commercial carrier.
Welfare and Whereabouts of U.S. Citizens
ACS receives approximately 12,000 inquiries a year concerning the
welfare or whereabouts of an American abroad. Many inquiries are from
worried relatives who have not heard from the traveler. Others are
attempts to notify the traveler about a family crisis at home.
Most welfare/whereabouts inquiries are successfully resolved. However,
occasionally, a person is truly missing. It is the responsibility of
local authorities to investigate and U.S. consuls abroad will work to
ensure their continued interest in cases involving Americans.
Unfortunately, as in the U.S., sometimes missing persons are never
Consular Information Program
ACS issues fact sheets on every country in the world called Consular
Information Sheets (CIS). The CIS contains information on entry
requirements, crime and security conditions, areas of instability and
other details relevant to travel in a particular country.
The Office also issues Travel Warnings. Travel Warnings are issued when
the State Department recommends deferral of travel by Americans to a
country because of civil unrest, dangerous conditions, terrorist
activity and/or because the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with the
country and cannot assist an American in distress.
Consular Information Sheets and Travel Warnings may be heard anytime, by
dialing the Office of Overseas Citizens Services travelers' hotline at
(202) 647-5225 from a touchtone phone. They are also available via
Consular Affairs' automated fax system at (202) 647-3000, or at any of
the 13 regional passport agencies, at U.S. embassies and consulates
abroad, and through the airline computer reservation systems, or, by
sending a self-addressed, stamped business size envelope to the Office
of Overseas Citizens Services, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Room 4811,
U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818.
If you have a personal computer, modem and communications software, you
can access them, and other consular handouts and publications through
the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). This service is free of
charge. To access CABB, dial the modem number: (202) 647-9225; set
modem speed (it will accommodate 300, 1200, 2400, 9600 or 14400 bps);
and terminal communications program to N-8-1 (parity, 8 bits, 1 stop
ACS coordinates the Bureau's activities and efforts relating to
international crises or emergency situations involving the welfare and
safety of large numbers of Americans residing or traveling in a crisis
area. Such crises can include plane crashes, hijackings, natural
disasters, civil disorders, and political unrest.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES (CI)
The Office of Children's Issues (CI) formulates, develops and
coordinates policies and programs, and provides direction to foreign
service posts on international parental child abduction and
international adoptions. It also fulfills U.S. treaty obligations
relating to the abduction of children.
CI coordinates policy and provides information on international adoption
to the potential parents. In 1994, over 8,000 foreign born children
where adopted by U.S. citizens. The Department of State cannot
intervene on behalf of an individual in foreign courts because adoption
is a private legal matter within the judicial sovereignty of the
country where the child resides. This office can, however, offer
general information and assistance regarding the adoption process in
over 60 countries.
International Parental Child Abductions
In recent years, the Bureau of Consular Affairs has taken action in
thousands of cases of international parental child abduction. The
Bureau also provides information in response to thousands of additional
inquiries pertaining to international child abduction, enforcement of
visitation rights and abduction prevention techniques. CI works closely
with parents, attorneys, other government agencies, and private
organizations in the U.S. to prevent international abductions.
The Hague Convention provides for the return of a child to his or her
habitual place of residence if the child has been wrongfully removed or
retained. CI has been designated by Congress as the Central Authority
to administer the Hague Convention in the United States.
POLICY REVIEW AND INTERAGENCY LIAISON (PRI)
The Office of Policy Review and Interagency Liaison (PRI) provides
guidance concerning the administration and enforcement of laws on U.S.
citizenship, and on the documentation of Americans traveling and
residing abroad. The Office also provides advice on matters involving
treaties and agreements, legislative matters, including implementation
of new laws, conducts reconsiderations of acquisition and loss of U.S.
citizenship in complex cases abroad, and administers the overseas
federal benefits program.
Consular Conventions and Treaties
PRI works closely with other offices in the State Department in the
negotiation of consular conventions and treaties, including prisoner
As a result of these prisoner transfer treaties, many U.S. citizens
convicted of crimes and incarcerated abroad have returned to the U.S. to
complete their sentences.
Over a half-million people receive monthly federal benefits payments
outside the U.S. In many countries, the monthly benefits checks are
mailed or pouched to the consular post and then distributed through the
local postal service. In other countries, the checks are mailed
directly into the beneficiaries' foreign bank accounts. Consular
officers assist in the processing of individual benefits claims and
problems; investigate claims on behalf of the agency concerned; and
perform other tasks requested by the agencies or needed by the
beneficiaries or survivors.
PRI is involved with legislation affecting U.S. citizens abroad. The
Office participates in hearings and provides testimony to Congress on
proposed legislation, particularly legislation relating to the
citizenship and welfare of U.S. citizens. They also interpret laws and
regulations pertaining to citizens consular services, including the
administration of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
PRI responds to inquires under the Privacy Act. The provisions of the
Privacy Act are designed to protect the privacy and rights of Americans
but occasionally complicate efforts to assist U.S. citizens abroad. As
a general rule, consular officers may not reveal information regarding
an individual American's location, welfare, intentions, or problems to
anyone, including family members and Congressional representatives,
without the expressed consent of that individual. In all potential
cases, consular officers explain Privacy Act restrictions and
requirements so that all individuals involved in a case understand the
Privacy Act's constraints.
Hours of Operation:
Monday-Friday 8:15 a.m.-10:00 p.m., and Saturday 9:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.:
Telephone: (202) 647-5225*
For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and Holidays,
Telephone: (202) 647-4000
and request the OCS duty officer.
*Overseas Citizens Services has a 24-hours a day hotline at (202) 647-
5225 for American Citizens Services (including travel and citizenship
information). Policy Review and Interagency Liaison can also be reached
at this number.
The Office of Children's Issues can be reached by calling (202) 736-
Bureau of Consular Affairs
Office of Public Affairs
US Deartment of State
Department of State Publication 10252
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