AARO and AAWE held a joint meeting at Reid Hall on November 4, 2019 to address certain questions about citizen services at the American Embassy. Although this meeting was held in France, much of the information is pertinent to all Citizen Services desks at American embassies around the world.
Robert Hannan, Consul General at the American Embassy in Paris, presented the service. The purpose of any American embassy is to protect its citizens, to provide services and support. These include, of course, emergency support.
His major recommendations are:
- Check your passport and your children’s. Be aware of the renewal dates and renew them in time. Keep the emergency service for unforeseen circumstances such as lost or stolen passports. Paris holds the record for the quickest turnaround time for passport renewal and emergency passports.
- Register with the embassy. https://step.state.gov/. The consulate sends out email and twitter alerts in case of local disturbances and places to avoid. STEP is not just for tourists.
- Request your ballot. The 2020 primary and general elections are coming up so make sure you request your ballot as an overseas voter. https://www.fvap.gov/
Some questions had been sent in advance; others came from the audience.
How can we obtain an immigrant visa for a spouse or child? Start with the website (https://fr.usembassy.gov/visas/immigrant-visas/). The US citizen sponsor files the petition for an immigration visa with the Department of Homeland Security, starting at the embassy in France for residents of France and Portugal. If you live elsewhere, check your local embassy’s website for information concerning which embassy handles such requests where you reside.
Make sure you have all the paperwork requested included in your file. There will be an interview in Paris (for residents of France and Portugal). Then, upon entering the US, the applicant will receive his or her green card for permanent residence. The process currently takes 9 to 18 months. Delays are usually caused because the file is missing required documents.
Is there an issue of family support? Yes. The petitioner must file an affidavit of financial support.
Assets are considered. But foreign income is difficult to consider so cosponsorship by someone (a parent or sibling) in the US is helpful. Currently financial support is $18000 for two + $4000 per extra person.
SSN or ITIN
How do I get an ITIN for my spouse? American citizens must get an SSN (social security number). At the embassy, there is the FBU (Federal Benefits Unit) to help citizens get an SSN. The ITIN (Individual Tax Identification Number) is for non-US-resident taxpayers or non-resident alien spouses or children claimed for exemptions. For that, the embassy is of no help; it's the W-7 form from the IRS (https://www.irs.gov/forms-pubs/about-form-w-7). Some documentation is required and a certified signature. The signature can be notarized by the Citizen Services ($50) or, in France, one can get the signature, certified authentic, at the mairie.
Citizenship of Children
If the American parent of the child fulfills the residency requirements for transmission of citizenship (residence in the US for 5 years, 2 of which after the age of 14) check the website (https://fr.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/citizenship-services/report-birth-abroad/). There is now an online application for the report of the birth of a citizen abroad.
If the American parent of the child does not fulfill the requirements for transmission of citizenship, an American grandparent may. However, it is not automatic and is done through an immigration visa from Homeland Security, form N-600. The grandparent has to provide the proof of residence, again. Having provided the proof when reporting the birth of his or her child, originally, is not considered. The grandparent does not have to be alive. There is a $1170 fee + possible legal fees. The N-600K form is unclear and the consular service does not have the legal competence to help, which is why legal assistance may be necessary. (The AARO citizenship committee can also offer assistance in completing the form based on the prior experience of other members.)
For both the parent and the grandparent, it is essential to keep all plane ticket stubs, pictures and other proof of time spent in the US. The 5 years residency is cumulative; every trip to the US counts.
Social Security is handled by the Federal Benefits Unit, which is not the Citizen Services desk (https://fr.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/social-security-administration/). At the mention of Pierre Sacrispeyre at FBU, many people in the audience agreed that he offers excellent assistance on claiming both US social security and French retirement benefits. AARO is planning a meeting on Social Security and Medicare in 2020. The Paris FBU at the Embassy covers France and many other French language countries.
Estimated population of Americans in France
The United States does not have mandatory registration of citizens abroad. The most recent estimate, based on how many are registered, how many passport renewals are requested, and so on, is about 300,000. It’s a guess.
There are no longer any IRS offices overseas.
Sending Ballots to the US
The diplomatic pouch will carry ballots to the US. However, the diplomatic pouch service is slow. In France, as in many countries, one can use tracked mail offered by the local postal service. The mail is tracked to the US border on the local website and then continues on the USPS site to the delivery address.
Travel on an expired passport
Can you enter the US with an expired passport? Yes, in theory, but the airline probably will not let you board the plane. If you do manage to get to the US border, count on time at the border for verification.
EU version of ESTA
How will dual nationals be handled? Since the airline reservation will allow only one passport ID for the reservation, will this be a problem? This is not expected to be a problem for residents.
Interviews are done only in the US
Emergency US passports
Because US emergency passports are not biometric, they not good for entry to France. Do not use a passport that has been previously reported lost or stolen. Once reported lost or stolen, the information is sent to INTERPOL. Although an appointment for an emergency passport is preferable, if you need same-day service, you can drop-in at the embassy from 8am. In an emergency, there is a 24-hr duty officer (01 43 12 22 22). Check the website for the Strasbourg and Marseille consulates or the embassy website where you live.
Revocation of US citizenship
The fee is $2350. It is a serious procedure — irrevocable. Pre-FATCA, there were, perhaps, 30 a year in France. Post-FATCA, there have been more — 140 this year, so far. The procedure is simple, with a phone interview and an in-person appointment scheduled a week later.
Why are the fees so high? The Bureau of Consular Affairs is totally fee-based. It is not funded through the appropriated funds that taxes pay for. The fees are calculated to take into account the salaries of the consular section, the overhead, and other expenses. The fees are sent to Washington, where the Treasury takes 13% before sending the rest to the State Department. Because it is fee-based, it is not directly affected by the government shutdown unless the building, itself, has to shut down.