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Gov’t Shutdown Honorary Consul Services Worldwide

Report coming in says the Liberian government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) has decided to relieve all of the country’s Honorary Consuls around the world from representing the government.

However, this is a move that many believed could acutely strain access to consular services by people of Liberian descent in various countries.

“I have been directed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Dee-Maxwell Saah Kemayah, Sr., through this communication, to formally inform you that the President of Liberia has approved new Regulations governing the appointment of honorary consuls,” Deweh Gray, the Deputy Minister for Legal Affairs at the Foreign Ministry wrote the consular office in Minnesota in a letter dated January 13.

“Under the new regulations all honorary consuls will cease to function as representatives of the government of Liberia.” In Minnesota and other Midwest U.S states such as Illinois, North and South Dakota, where tens of thousands of Liberians live, the decision could have a negative impact on those requiring consular services.

Liberia’s only consular office in Minnesota, the U.S state with one of the biggest Liberian populations, serves an estimated 35,000 individuals. The Minnesota Consulate, before its closure, provided thousands of Liberians in the Midwest with convenient access to passports, visas, and other consular services.

But that is no longer the case since a large number of Liberians must now mail their applications or travel to Washington, DC, where the embassy is located or to the consulate in New York to submit their applications. The Minnesota Consulate was established more than ten years ago by the administration of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

“The closure is premature and insensitive and would cause undue hardship for thousands of Liberians within the US Midwestern states who benefit from visa and passport services offered at the consulate,” the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas said in a press statement.

“It is at a loss as to why Minister Maxwell Kemayah and the Foreign Ministry are hell-bent on executing a policy that will create additional bottlenecks including the added financial expense for Liberians and foreigners traveling to Liberia,” the statement added.

The blanket closure of all of Liberia’s Honorary Consul offices worldwide, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was triggered by a new set of regulations, which ceased to have honorary consuls function as representatives of the Government.

However, the Ministry is yet to have the regulation in question published despite announcing the outsourcing of the issuance of passports and visa services to VFS Global.

VFS (Visa Facilitation Services) Global will now be responsible for running of the newly opened passport application centers in Chicago, Los Angeles, Pretoria in South Africa, Nairobi in Kenya, Melbourne in Australia, and New Delhi.

The company processing usually takes fifteen business days from receipt by an Embassy of the complete application and may take longer during peak times and in exceptional circumstances. This estimate excludes the time of shipping of applications.

“The services being provided by VFS Global will be solely to capture bio-metrics of persons wishing to acquire Liberian passports. All vetting and approval processes will be done from the Foreign Ministry in Liberia,” the Ministry said in a communication, announcing the closure of the Minnesota Consulate office and all other consulate offices worldwide.

A passport application, minus the service charge, would cost US$100 per person, and the screening procedure, which was previously handled by the consulates, will now be handled by the Ministry in Liberia, which is notoriously sluggish.

And while the Ministry claimed that the government would open a new passport application center in Roseville, Minnesota, visa services would now be handled by the Embassy in Washington DC or the Consulate in New York as was done in the past.

“While the letter from the Foreign Ministry acknowledged that the offices of the ‘Honorary Consulate’ in Minnesota serve to alleviate the hardships of Liberians having to travel to New York or Washington, DC for passport and visa services, yet it has opted to re-impose that hardship by prematurely shutting down the Consulate,” ALJA statement noted.

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