The United States Bureau of Consular Affairs serves both U.S. citizens and foreigners, making it one of the most powerful departments within the United States State Department. In fact, it’s the first government contact that people have when deciding to travel overseas, or, if they’re a citizen of another country, the first contact when trying to access the country. Take a look at how the USBCA functions and what it can mean for you.

Visas for non-U.S. Citizens

If you’re a citizen of another country, chances are you’ll need a visa from the USBCA in order to enter the country. This is a regulation that was put in place by Congress after the Immigration and Nationality Act when into effect in 1965 in order to ensure that the US government knew how many foreigners were traveling to America and what country they were coming from.

Visas are for a few weeks of sightseeing or long-term work visas; those who wish to become permanent residents will have to go through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Passports for Citizens

U.S. citizens who wish to travel abroad will make use of one of the most well-known functions of the USBCA: passports. In order to travel internationally, this piece of paperwork is needed and can be obtained through the Office of Passport Services.

Passports are important because they allow the government to know where its citizens are located in case of an emergency or terror attack. These are also necessary because, since 2009, all Americans who are trying to re-enter the U.S. after time abroad must show proof of citizenship; the passport is the cheapest way to show evidence.

Welfare and Protection of US Citizens Abroad

One of the five functions of the USBCA, or rather, one of the most important, is done through the Office of Overseas Citizen Services. This office focuses on taking care of citizens who work and live abroad, or who might be traveling when an accident, such as a crime or death, occurs.

The Office also issues travel warnings and alerts to travelers indicating which countries are no longer safe to travel to or that federal laws have changed that may affect them. Above all, however, it is a U.S. citizen’s connection to their homeland, allowing them to get help when necessary.

International Adoption and Abduction

Among the five functions of the USBCA comes from the Office of Children’s Services: international child adoption and abduction. These are specific issues that concern American citizens who may be trying to adopt a child from overseas or who have a child missing while traveling.

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Because cases involving children overseas require diplomacy, the USBCA has created an entire office to help with these matters. From adoption to abduction to crimes involving children, U.S. citizens can count on this office to help them while working through a foreign country’s procedures and laws, ensuring that every child makes it home to America.

Fraud Prevention

The last of the five functions of the United States Bureau of Consular Affairs discussed here is fraud prevention of visas and passports, as this continues to be an evolving threat that targets thousands of U.S. citizens abroad each year.

Because American passports tend to be among the most powerful in the world, fraud of passports is commonplace. Therefore, the USBCA has instituted the Office of Fraud Prevention, which allows designated officers to detect and prosecute cases of passport and visa crimes, especially those cases that involve an American citizen that has been stranded in another country because of fraud.

Citizens that travel internationally are aware of how important the State Department is to their safety; however, fewer are aware that there are other offices that support the department in this area. These five functions of the United States Bureau of Consular Affairs do not cover everything the bureau does, but it’s a great first step in getting to know the office.