A video-interview initiative of the U.S. Embassy in Israel aims to break the logjam that has prevented American families with babies born during the pandemic from traveling to the United States.
The pandemic, which got the embassy closed for months last year, created a tremendous backlog in appointments for U.S. citizens who needed to renew or replace their passports, part of a worldwide problem that was unusually acute in Israel due to its high number of U.S. citizens.
The embassy knows that “it can be difficult to get an entire family, including young children, to our consular sections,” it said on its website.
”We hope that the option of speaking to us by secure video (no special equipment will be needed, an internet and camera-enabled cell phone, laptop, or desktop will be fine) will reduce the stress, and it will allow us to schedule more in-person appointments of others as we increase our services.”
In the spring, the backlog was partially alleviated when Washington announced that American citizens could use expired passports until the end of 2021 to enter the United States. At the time, there was a backlog of 15,000 passport applications and renewals.
Permitting the use of expired passports solved a problem for children needing the document renewed, even if they still required a face-to-face appointment to get this done and may not do it by mail.
But citizens with children born just before or during the pandemic still had to make an in-person appointment for a Consular Report of Birth to obtain a U.S. passport. Due to the backlog, such appointments are nearly impossible to obtain on the embassy’s website.
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In the announcement of the video initiative on Twitter, a link to the embassy’s website said the embassy was “collecting data on the number of parents who are interested and eligible for this new program.”
Applicants were asked to fill in a form to apply for the interview, which includes both parents and the child, previously required to be an in-person event. After the video discussion, one parent will be called to a consular section of the embassy “for a final interview and to provide original documents/copies, pay for services, and sign the applications.”
The criteria for eligibility show that only certain families will benefit from the program. Only children with two parents holding U.S. citizenship are eligible, and many families seeking consular reports of birth and new passports have only one parent with this status.
Plus, only children under age 2 are eligible, and if they are the first-born child of a family that has never used U.S. Embassy services, they’re out of luck. To qualify, a child must “be a member of a family who has previously obtained a passport or birth report from the Jerusalem Embassy or Tel Aviv Branch Office.”
According to the embassy, more than 100 families have registered for the video interviews since the initiative was announced.
"We will miss the fun of having our littlest customers brighten our day, but fewer people needing to come in person frees up additional space to serve others," said Consul General Andrew Miller.