Why Consular Service Matters for Citizens

by Juan “Jed” E. Dayang, Jr.

The Australian National University

 

 

In a Facebook page of the US Department of State’s Careers in Foreign Affairs, there was a topic on the Discussion Board which asked:  Why is the consular cone one of the last sought after career tracks?

  It leads the reader to think or perceive that consular service is unpopular compared with other career tracks in the US State Department which include economic affairs, management affairs, political affairs and public diplomacy.

If diplomats are “front-line professionals” representing their countries abroad to serve the interest of their country and to protect their citizens, then why are there few Americans who want to take the consular track?

According to some studies by The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, one of the reasons why foreign service officers avoid consular work is because some diplomats consider it as subordinate to diplomatic work which primarily deals with political affairs. For many who have higher degrees before entering the service, consular work is not the real work of diplomats.   Based on the the replies of those who responded in the FB forum, there those who view consular work as routine.  The work can also have potential risks.  A wrong decision could hurt one’s career and reputation. However, those views are changing. In today’s diplomacy, handling political issues is just one of the many facets of new diplomacy.  Contemporary global challenges ran a gamut from economic and trade to environment, human rights and migration issues. It is also far from being routine. Everyday, a consular officer can assist citizens with different cases and circumstances.  The job also provides one of the best ways to serve the public and can be morally rewarding.

Importance of Consular Service

The function of consuls is to represent the state abroad to promote trade interest and protect its citizens. Consular representation predates the modern state and certainly the Vienna Convention of Consular Relations of 1963.  Many are familiar with high-profile cases concerning citizens in trouble overseas such as the victims of the 9/11 World Trade Center bombings in New York City and  the Bali bombings that killed many people.  In the last few months, we have seen governments providing assistance to their citizens who are caught in harm’s way either in natural calamities or in conflict zones. These are often very severe cases and highly charged. But the immensity of consular work is rarely recognized widely. And a few people know how broad and a complex consular affair is.

In the next section, I will cite examples of consular services of Australia, the Philippines and Mexico.

Australia

Australia is a nation of travelers. More than 3.5 million Australians – almost 20 per cent of the population – travel abroad each year. The majority of Australians do not need to go to an embassy or consulate for help. But despite adequate preparation, some Australians may suffer difficulties when overseas. Some of the programs of theAustralia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are the Smart Traveler where Australians can check travel advisories and register their contact details when going overseas, the 24-hour consular hotline, and the crisis response team led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Philippines and Mexico

The Philippines and Mexico are nations of emigrants. At least a 10th of their population are overseas, many if not the majority are migrant workers.  There are about 9 Million Filipinos living and working abroad and more than 60% of them are temporary migrant workers who can be found in all continents of the world.  Mexican emigrants on the other hand are concentrated in the Unite States.  Mexico is unique for having 51 consular offices in the United States alone to serve around 10 million immigrants to the United States.

The consular services of these two countries are robust. They assist their nationals and protect them from human rights abuses as well as assist victims of human trafficking.  Apart from the traditional consular services of assisting distressed citizens, both countries have established innovative services to their citizen’s abroad. For example, Filipino diplomats provide reintegration programs such as skills training and educational programs in Filipino Migrant Workers Centers in order to prepare Filipino migrant workers in their return home. Mexican Consulates run Plazas Comunitarias where Mexicans can learn English, be given health care advice, and learn personal financial skills.

There are limits to any government’s capacity to assist its citizens beyond their national borders, and in other legal jurisdictions. Therefore, citizens have the shared responsibility to take precaution when they travel overseas. The risks related with travel can always be reduced by being more careful of those risks.  That is why it is also important for travelers to research the likelihood of risks as well as the laws of their destination Citizens are also advised to contact their family and friends of their travel plans, whereabouts, and condition. This is where the travel advisories of ministries of foreign affairs are particularly useful.  Travel insurance for tourists and similar insurance provided by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) for temporary migrant workers are also handy.

Conclusion

As people continue to move in a globalized and “flatter” world, there will be increasing need for consular service.   As more complex issues arise in travel and migration, more complex and responsive consular services are vital.  Consular service is emerging as an important task of foreign ministries due to international migration and the increase in the travel activities of citizens.  Consular service appeals to those who have strong commitment to public service, enjoys challenge, and are highly motivated.  So for those contemplating of becoming a foreign service officer, the consular service may provide a most rewarding experience.

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