Pursuant to the Foreign Missions Act, Congress mandated the creation of the Office of Foreign Missions (OFM) in 1982. OFM’s primary objective is to support the secure and efficient operations of U.S. diplomatic and consular operations abroad.
As an advocate for reciprocity, OFM is responsible for ensuring that the treatment accorded to foreign missions and their members in the United States are extended after due consideration of the privileges and immunities provided to missions of the United States in the country represented by that foreign mission, as well as matters relating to the protection of the interests of the United States.
The Foreign Missions Act defines the term “foreign mission” as any mission or entity in the United States which is involved in the diplomatic, consular, or other activities that are substantially owned or effectively controlled by:
- A foreign government, or
- An organization representing a territory or political entity which has been granted diplomatic or other official privileges and immunities under the laws of the United States or which engages in some aspect of the conduct of the international affairs of such territory or political entity, including any real property of such a mission.
There are currently more than 2,000 foreign missions in the United States that employ nearly 70,000 staff and close to 90% are entitled to some degree of diplomatic or consular immunities.
Among other responsibilities, OFM’s implementation of the Foreign Missions Act includes:
- overseeing the process used to formally establish, accredit or terminate foreign missions and international organizations, including approval or denial of their requests to acquire, renovate, or dispose of real property in the United States;
- determining, via accreditation, the rights, privileges, and immunities accorded to foreign government and international organization personnel in the United States;
- assisting U.S. missions abroad in negotiating the reduction or elimination of taxes and customs on their operations, construction projects, and purchases;
- regulating the operation, titling and registration of the foreign missions’ use of motor vehicles in the United States;
- overseeing the process through which shipments consigned to foreign missions and their members are permitted entry into the United States;
- coordinating emergency management planning and response for foreign missions in the United States and their personnel in man-made or natural disasters.,.
OFM has offices in Washington, DC, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and San Francisco.