In 1982, the Congress enacted the Foreign Missions Act, 22 U.S.C. 4301-4316, reaffirming the Federal government’s jurisdiction over the operation of foreign missions and international organizations in the United States. The Act established an Office of Foreign Missions within the Department of State to review and control the operations of foreign missions in the United States and the benefits that are made available to them. It empowers the Office of Foreign Missions to set the terms and conditions whereby benefits may be provided and sets forth the mechanism and criteria under which the location of foreign missions in the District of Columbia are to be decided. Section 206 of the Foreign Mission Act establishes procedures and criteria governing the location, replacement, or expansion of chanceries in the District of Columbia.
Under the Foreign Missions Act, OFM’s Property Program manages all acquisitions, including leases, additions, and sales of real property by foreign missions to assure that it is consistent with national security interests, reciprocity, and applicable local and international law. Those foreign governments not providing the United States with substantially equivalent property rights are not permitted to purchase real estate for their diplomatic or consular posts. In addition, the Property Section provides general guidance to foreign missions, local governments, attorneys, and real estate brokers regarding property taxation, zoning, and other related matters. Finally, the Property Section oversees the preservation and maintenance of those foreign mission properties with which the United States no longer maintains diplomatic relations.
Notifying the Office of Foreign Missions
Pursuant to section 4305 of the Foreign Missions Act (the Act), all foreign missions are obligated to notify the Department of State prior to any acquisition, use, sale or other disposition, by or on behalf of the foreign mission, of real property which is located in the United States. This includes, but is not limited to, any purchase, resale, lease, alteration, renovation, addition, or change in the purpose for which real property is used by a foreign mission.
The notification requirement applies to properties acquired for office or residential use by the foreign government for its diplomatic mission in Washington and career consular posts around the United States. For some missions the requirement may also extend to acquisitions by individual members of the mission.
The Department of State will respond to the mission by diplomatic note indicating whether a request has been approved, disapproved, and include if appropriate any terms and conditions.