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American olim in limbo as backlog at US Emabssy continues

CM 29/07/2021

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A year and a half into the pandemic, American olim are still struggling to secure appointments with the US Embassy for essential activities, including passport renewal.
In distress, many have sought aid from Facebook groups and technology professionals in order to attempt to confirm appointments with the consulate.
Elisheva Poupko Schreiber was one of those seeking an appointment to renew passports for herself and her 14-year-old son. Schreiber made a point to be proactive about the process and attempted to secure an appointment in November 2020, seven months before the passports were due to expire. However, after months of checking the website religiously, she realized her attempts were futile.
“By January time I realized that this isn’t happening,” Schreiber said. “There’s never an appointment available.”

At that point Schreiber began to pay attention to Facebook conversations about passport renewal issues. She realized she was far from alone in her struggles.
The Facebook group Reunite Olim With Their Families has over 9,000 members and includes many daily posts from those trying to overcome logistical issues in order to see their loved ones. Posts range from questions about required COVID tests and entry permits to personal anecdotes of interactions with workers at the consulate.
It was through Facebook that Schreiber found a beacon of hope by the name of Amichai Strasford.
Strasford is proficient in computer software and has established programming that emails people every time an appointment with the consulate becomes available. If the appointment seeker is prompt enough, they are able to claim one of the few coveted appointments. Strasford’s programming has helped many olim secure appointments, including Schreiber.
Schreiber, a self-described “rule follower,” felt comfortable using Strasford’s software as a means of confirming an appointment with the consulate.
Opportunists have seen the pandemic-induced backlog as an excuse to take advantage of desperate appointment seekers.
Susan Wellish has been trying to get an appointment for eight months, to no avail, and saw on Facebook that appointments were being sold.
“Someone on Facebook is supposedly taking all of the appointments and selling them to people for NIS 500,” Wellish shared.
Dana Zimmerman, senior media adviser at the US Embassy Branch Office in Tel Aviv, implores those seeking appointments to “not become a victim of fraud.”
“Individuals or entities that purport to be able to secure you an appointment through a connection to the embassy are not legitimate,” Zimmerman explains. “Do not pay for appointments. They are free.”
Esther Esquenazi, a native New Yorker who made aliyah three years ago, has, like other olim, felt a similar sense of frustration in her interactions with the embassy and attempts to secure a passport for her infant.
Esquenazi and her husband felt a call to action and organized a protest on July 9 at the embassy. The protest was attended by a small number of similarly bothered olim.
“I was at my wit’s end about what to do about the passport situation and overall lack of services at the embassy,” Esquenazi said.
Esquenazi has been unable to introduce her 10-month-old son to her and her husband’s families due to backlogs at the embassy.
“I know there is a work-around for people whose passports expired, so why isn’t there one to get my 10-month-old son a passport, who obviously doesn’t pose a threat to national security?” Esquenazi wanted to know.
Esquenazi is referencing that US Customs and Border Protection are allowing admission to the US with passports that expired on or after January 1, 2020. This leniency will last through December 31, 2021.
Zimmerman wants to remind those frustrated that “the backlog is a global problem due to the pandemic, and not unique to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.”
Zimmerman suggests that US citizens in those areas who are able to apply by mail for a US passport should do so.
“This includes anyone, including children, who received a one-year emergency passport, if the passport is unexpired,” Zimmerman said.
The embassy has shifted staff from nonimmigrant visa services to support US citizen services, including citizenship services, to hasten the process for those looking to renew passports.
As coronavirus cases are spiking once again across Israel, those seeking appointments with the embassy remain in a continued state of annoyance and uncertainty.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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