My journey to the U.S. Foreign Service began ten years ago in Amman, Jordan. A fellow classmate in my Arabic program happened to be a public diplomacy officer with the U.S. Embassy. He regaled the class with stories about the countries where he had served and the critical role of public affairs in the field of diplomacy. These conversations came right before the Arab Spring and the many ways this officer and his colleagues across the Middle East would be challenged by uncertain, and at times dangerous, work environments. I was inspired and awestruck by the great personal risks they took to pursue this type of career. Over ten years later, I am now a Foreign Service Officer myself, on my very first tour in the United Kingdom during an unprecedented global crisis.
I arrived to the U.S. Embassy in London just a few months ago, freshly trained on consular affairs. I was immediately impressed by the cadre of consular officers, locally employed staff, and senior officials who diligently protect American citizens overseas, facilitate travel to the U.S. by an incredibly diverse pool of visa applicants, and ensure U.S. national security. My consular colleagues deal with deaths and abductions, business leaders’ and investors’ travel to the U.S., the immigration and reunification of families, and so much more. At the core of this work is service to others, and this ethos of service has only strengthened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Presidential Proclamation, suspending entry into the United States of travelers who had recently been in UK, on account of risks of coronavirus transmission, was issued on March 14. Two days later, I stood behind a counter across a waiting room with less than the usual crowd of hopeful travelers and interviewed the final nonimmigrant visa applicant before most of our team was sent home. Now, the U.S. Embassy in London is processing only the most necessary visa applications.
Without the ability to interview visa applicants, my colleagues and I have been volunteering to support other teams with ongoing needs. In this way, I ended up spending a week with the Special Consular Services team. The United Kingdom has been a transit stop for U.S. citizens attempting to make it back home from all over the world. Due to the rapidly changing conditions of international travel, I spent that week calling UK airports, transportation services, and hotels. I worked with my colleagues to make sure the most up-to-date information about these services was available to all—and especially for those Americans who would be transiting through the UK. During that week our team also followed up on the welfare and whereabouts of U.S. citizens dealing with all kinds of challenges from imprisonment to child custody, from welfare concerns to medical crises. While facing new issues presented by the pandemic, this team diligently pursued its mission to assist U.S. citizens in need.
A message to all US Citizens in the #UK we are here for you wherever you may be!
— US Embassy London Consular (@USAinUKConsular) April 3, 2020
I spent the next two weeks working in the Consular Information Unit. This team is responsible for making sure that the most up to date information about our operations is on our website and social media platforms. They also maintain correspondence with intending travelers, U.S. citizens, and government officials while keeping apprised of policy changes and consular regulations. Somehow they even managed to put together a video about the many ways consular officers are working from the embassy and their homes to advance our mission. Meanwhile senior leaders have been fully engaged in helping American travelers on repatriation flights from over 20 different countries and on multiple cruise ships, assisting U.S. citizens stranded in the UK, and ensuring the safety and security of our team.
When I learned that my first post would be as a consular officer in London, I looked forward to the thrills of the job; potentially interviewing one of the cast members of the British series Doctor Who or another such celebrity; working in a brand new state-of-the-art embassy facility; and building a new career by learning from inspiring colleagues. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for a celebrity sighting and happen to be writing this essay from my desk at home and not from the embassy. Despite this, I could have never expected the depth of service and inspiration that the consular team in London exudes. I am grateful to work alongside, and for the time being six feet apart from, these committed public servants.
About the Author: Usra Ghazi is a U.S. Foreign Service Officer. The opinions expressed here are her own and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of State.