Liberia: Gov’t Closes Honorary Consul Services Worldwide
.... In Minnesota and other Midwest US 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 US state with one of the biggest Liberian populations, serves an estimated 35,000 individuals.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has decided to relieve all of the country's Honorary Consuls around the world from representing the government, a move that 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 Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote the consular office in Minnesota in a letter dated Jan. 13.
“Under the new regulations all honorary consuls will cease to function as representatives of the government of Liberia.”
In Minnesota and other Midwest US 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 US 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 Johson 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 Global is the world’s largest visa outsourcing & technology service specialist for governments & their diplomatic missions worldwide,” the company says on its website.
“VFS Global in Partnership with Buck Press Ghana is now the exclusive service provider for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Liberia, authorized to provide e-passport renewal services to Liberian citizens living in Kenya and neighboring countries,” the website also says.
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.
VFS Global has its headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, and Dubai, UAE and is widely recognized by over 140 governments around the world. It is a company that has been contracted and subcontracted by many European governments to handle visa and passport services on behalf of those governments.
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 biometrics 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.
“The Company will be in arrangement with DHL to transport completed passports directly to the passport center for pickup by the applicants. Applicants will be required to submit all supporting documents in support of their application to the passport center. They will apply online through the same passport website and choose the Minnesota center. Applicants will be required to pay a service fee of US$60 per application.”
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.
It added that the government should revert to the system that has been serving all Liberians and other nationals alike with ease.
Meanwhile, the pastor of the Redeemed Life Church International has described the closure of the consulate as “a bad move.”
Rev. Alexander B. Collins, who is the immediate past Executive Director of the Liberian Ministers Association, a network of over fifty (50) churches with over 180 pastors in the US state of Minnesota, said, “this closure puts an undue burden on thousands of Liberians in Minnesota and other parts of the Midwest.
The establishment of the Liberian Consulate in Minnesota by then President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to serve Liberians has been a burden-lifting and a tremendous help to the over 35,000 Liberians in Minnesota and the over 200,000 Liberians in the Midwest,” he added.