Ponce commends strong US-Kuwaiti ties
KUWAIT CITY, April 24: Consular Chief Tim Ponce sat down with the Arab Times to present an overview of the US citizen services provided by the US Embassy in Kuwait and discuss current issues pertinent to the community.
Ponce commended the strong US-Kuwaiti relations and cooperation, “We are very fortunate to enjoy a very good working relationship across the government of Kuwait. This is really embodied in the US-Kuwait Strategic Dialogue, a very highlevel conversation we have at the senior most levels of the US and Kuwait governments to raise any and every issue, and that includes consular issues. We have a Consular and Customs working group where we raise visa and citizen issues to try and find ways in which we can resolve difficulties and challenges that come up. These include improving consular notification and access, and identifying ways in which we can facilitate the travels of our nationals when things don’t go perfectly. Good communication along those lines and on a daily basis, is key to helping work through those challenges.”
Looking back at the long history of the US Consular services, he shared that apart from representing the US government and maintaining strong relationships with the host country, the top priority for every consular post was to take care of the private American community and the US citizens residing therein. “In our constitution, we are a country of, by, and for the American people and that is why it is such a serious thing in the US Embassy to make sure that we are there for us citizens.”
The US citizen community, estimated at 40,000 in Kuwait, come from different fields and diverse backgrounds. While the community is largely made up of educationists, US military personnel and contractors for US businesses supporting the US military, there are many Americans playing diverse roles in the private sector here, as well as those who are married to Kuwaiti nationals.
The central portal of information for US citizens in Kuwait is the US Embassy’s official website – kw.usembassy.gov. Ponce encourages Americans who need any help to visit the website to find comprehensive material that covers everything from passport renewals and reporting the birth of a new child to details on notary and authentication services, as well as relevant information for legal emergencies, and up-todate advisories. Ponce also urged all Americans to enroll their stay in Kuwait through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at https://step.state.gov to receive the latest advisories from the US Embassy.
Examples of recent messages sent to the American community include warnings and helpful sources of information issued during the floods last year, an advisory regarding the cessation of issuance of residency stickers in expat passports, and things to keep in mind during the upcoming Holy Month of Ramadan. For more specific information, American citizens are directed to email the embassy at KuwaitACS@state.gov or call the embassy’s main number – 2591001.
Ponce assured that the Consular department prides itself in making sure that appointment wait times and query response times are not too long. “For inquiries made through email, we try to make sure that we get back to people within a business day. We are always available when someone has an emergency. For example, with our phone number, there is someone who covers that line 24×7. Apart from a telephone operator who works during the normal business day, after hours we always have a duty officer who is on call and monitors the embassy security to make sure that if an American is arrested, injured or dies, we have someone who is present at the embassy to point them to the right local resources here.”
For the issue of new passports or renewals, Americans are advised to visit the official website for all application instructions, forms and appointments. Passport services are provided Sunday to Wednesday afternoons and appointments can be made according to the applicant’s convenience. Ponce invites those who have any doubts regarding application procedures for US citizen services, to email the department. “We already send inquirers some standard information. If your question is answered in that standard information you might not get a reply back from us. But if you are still not sure, email us again and we will get back to you, our goal is to respond within one business day.”
An important requirement to be mindful of when making an application is the photo standards for the US, Ponce shares. “We have a very unique photo standard for the US – 2×2 inches against a white background. We sometimes have people misunderstand that they can bring a photo that they use in Kuwait. If there is anything that people can do to make sure that their time at the consular section goes as smoothly as possible, is to make sure that their photo is correct, the form is filled out and that they leave any prohibited items in the car such as cell phones and cigarette lighters, any other device with Bluetooth enabled. You want to make sure that you keep that in your car and it will make it easy for you to go through security.” The US Embassy issues two types of passport.
The first is a 52-page regular blue booklet that is delivered in two weeks. The information for these passports is transmitted by the embassy to central production facilities where they are produced and sent back by express mail. An email is sent to applicants when the passport is ready for pick up. In cases of emergencies however, the embassy can issue a smaller booklet on request, produced at its premises in as little as an hour, which can later be replaced with a regular passport. Ponce also advises in favor of early applications, “Don’t wait until your passport or US visa expires, you can renew these at any time. Apply well in advance, that way if there are any delays for any minor reasons, you’ve got time to work with it.”
Commenting on the recent change by the Kuwaiti government on the issue of residency stickers, Ponce stated, “We are very fortunate at the US Embassy to have positive working relationships with the government of Kuwait and in this instance, with Ministry of Interior – Residence Affairs as well as the Public Authority for Civil Information. We reached out to them to make sure that we understood the new regulations as well and could help Americans where possible.” He highly recommended that Americans be very careful and double check their information in order to avoid any problems on account of errors, while entering or exiting the country. There are three opportunities for everyone to verify their information. First, on making the application for the residence permit; second, when the residence permit data entry is completed and the applicant receives a receipt stapled to the passport, and finally, when PACI sends the applicant a text message to verify their information and confirm it for final process. Ponce shared that it is very important to have the correct mobile number listed in the system, and in case of any errors, to take proactive steps to get it corrected. He encouraged Americans who currently have valid residency permit stickers in their passport to continue their use and wait until it expires to get the new Civil ID.
It is also important to protect one’s passport and Civil ID during travel abroad. “If you lose your Civil ID or passport, you have to go to the nearest Kuwait Embassy to get a No Objection Certificate. We understand from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that they can issue that quickly.” US Embassy provides varying degrees of emergency assistance for its citizens. For medical emergencies, the US Embassy has posted relevant medical resources on its website with contact information for most of the government and private clinics that meet a good standard of care. In cases of death, the US does provide assistance to Americans by listing all the resources needed to work with the hospital, mortuary, forensic department, and in arranging for the repatriation of remains back to the US or even to a third country; as well as assisting those who choose local burial here through Kuwaiti authorities. “Finally, if an American has any legal or criminal complaint, we do have a list of lawyers on our website as well. The US Embassy doesn’t pay for the lawyers, the Americans have to pay their legal fees themselves but there is a list made available of lawyers who are qualified to practice law in Kuwait – who have expressed willingness to work with US citizens, speak English and sometimes have American lawyers on staff who can help translate the difference between the US and Kuwait legal systems.”
In cases where a US citizen is arrested and imprisoned, Ponce commends the authorities for their near perfect record of notifying the embassy of the same. A US consular officer will try to speak with, if not visit the arrested individual, within 24-48 hours at whichever police station or prison they may be detained in. “When we go to a prison visit, we try to help the American understand that process, provide them the list of lawyers and explain a little bit about what they can expect in the Kuwait judicial process. We get the information of any contacts and family members, employers that they want us to reach out to so that we can help arrange for any of their personal effects at their home, coordinate on any issue they might have with paying for an attorney, take care of some things they left at work, etc.”
Ponce shared that the Consular Department recently held a naturalization ceremony for six US soldiers at the embassy. “When you immigrate to the US you become a lawful permanent resident but you have to wait for at least five years before you apply for US citizenship. Remarkably, we have many lawful permanent residents who join the US army or Air Force even before they become citizens. So it is really our honor and privilege here at the embassy that we host naturalization ceremonies for those US military members who have already committed to protecting the country even before they became a US citizen.
Naturalization ceremonies are really moving because some have worked to get on a path to US immigration and citizenship for a long time, and especially for those who committed to serve even before they got their citizenship, it is a very proud moment.” Ponce informed that the US Embassy would send out a message to the US citizen community on the onset of the Holy Month of Ramadan, with tips about conduct and advising them of the changes in working hours for US Citizen Services, a change in appointment times will be observed, to fall between 11 am to 1 pm during Ramadan. Finally, he urged US citizens to, “Be good guests in Kuwait, respect Kuwait’s laws but rest assured that the US Embassy is here to help if you have any questions.”
By Cinatra Alvares Arab Times Staff