Need an appointment at the U.S. Embassy? Get on line!
U.S. citizens seeking an appointment at the embassy or consulate are being forced to wait upwards of six months, in a system backlog that is raising the ire of American citizens across the country, and forcing travel cancelations: families who were planning to visit the US in the coming months say that without required documentation, they have no choice but to cancel their plans.
Embassy officials insist they are processing requests as fast as they can, but suspect a "baby boom" to explain what they describe as a surge in requests for citizenship processing.
Officials also suspect that a "scalping" system has emerged. "Certain unscrupulous individuals have gone to our Web site appointment system and have snapped up a large number of appointments, which they are then turning over for a fee to people who need appointments," said Richard Beer, consul general at the U.S. Embassy. "That has contributed to the wait."
Wait times vary depending on the service required, but to register a birth abroad, Americans now say the earliest appointments available are in July.
Last summer, citizen services in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem announced that all Americans would now need to schedule appointments through the consulate's Web site in advance. Officials said the online system would streamline services and make the system more user-friendly.
But American citizens aren't convinced.
Peysach Freedman went online a few days ago to make an appointment for his two children. The earliest slot for an appointment was July 22.
"I can wait a few weeks, but six months doesn't make any sense," said Freedman, a Baltimore native.
The Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel is also feeling the pressure.
"Every other phone call I get is from someone who is unable to make an appointment," said Josie Arbel, director of absorption services at AACI. "It's been crazy."
Meanwhile, one frustrated citizen decided to start an "appointment gmach," or free loan society, which essentially created a clearinghouse for people who had either an extra appointment or were looking to get one. The former New Yorker, who asked to go unnamed, says he has serviced more than 100 US citizens so far.
According to estimates, some 200,000 American citizens live in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
"We're doing everything we can to address this issue, and we are processing as many of these cases as we can in one day, but there are limits as to how many of these we can do," Beer said.
Officials also urged Americans with travel plans or urgent needs to contact the embassy by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or the consulate in Jerusalem at email@example.com.
"American citizens are also asked to refrain from making multiple appointments for the same service," a spokesperson for the US consulate in Jerusalem also said. "This practice is currently increasing wait times for appointments."