WASHINGTON, USA -- USVI Delegate to Congress Donna M. Christensen said on Thursday her district office staff received e-mail correspondence from the US Department of State’s Miami passport agency that, effective July 11, 2014, US citizens from the US Virgin Islands who need to obtain an emergency passport will have to travel to the newly opened passport agency in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for the service.
USVI Delegate to Congress Donna M. Christensen
“My St Croix district staff immediately contacted the staff of the Office of the Lieutenant Governor’s Passport Office, who were also included on the July 11 e-mail correspondence, to discuss how resolve the matter,” said Christensen. “My staff has been in contact with the US Department of State Office of Legislative Affairs to determine how we should move forward, as well as the Miami passport agency, to obtain a process that will not subject my constituency to these cumbersome, expensive and unrealistic demands that have recently been put in place.”
Christensen said it is important to note that the Delegate’s Office does not issue passports. Passport services are under the auspices of the Office of the Lieutenant Governor.
“Since June 2010, my district staff has worked closely with the Lieutenant Governor’s Passport Office and the Miami passport agency to assist US citizens in obtaining emergency passports and passport renewals in life or death situations,” said Congresswoman Christensen. “We had hoped to continue this service with the San Juan passport agency, unfortunately, this has not been the case and my staff and I are working with the State Department to determine how best Virgin Islanders can be accommodated.”
In jurisdictions across the United States, American citizens who want an emergency passport can go to the nearest US Department of State facility and apply in person. Prior to the opening of the San Juan office, the nearest facility for Virgin Islanders was the Miami Passport Office. Realizing that it was a financial burden for residents to fly to Miami for this service, the Miami Passport Office collaborated with the Delegate’s office to establish a method to assist Virgin Islands residents.
The process was that a passport applicant who needed to travel immediately for a funeral in a jurisdiction outside of the US would be referred by the Lt. Governor’s Passport Office to one of the Delegate’s district offices in St Thomas or St Croix. The Delegate’s staff would then request that the Miami passport agency process the emergency passport application, which is sent overnight by FedEx, immediately and applicants would typically receive their US passport within two or three days. On average, the delegate’s offices handled five emergency passports a month.
“We were successful in assisting many residents, most of whom were grieving and anxious about being able to say good-bye to a loved one or pay their respects at their funeral. Were it not for the collaborative efforts of my office and the Miami passport agency, this service would not have been possible,” said Christensen.
Officials at the San Juan passport agency stated that mailing passport applications and accompanying documentation directly to a passport agency “represents a vulnerability in the passport application process.” Therefore, they have asked that the Delegate’s Office immediately discontinue mailing emergency passport applications to San Juan for processing and instead direct residents to travel to the San Juan passport agency to apply for, or renew, their US passport.
“My staff and I do recognize that traveling to San Juan also represents an unfair, financial burden on our residents,” said Christensen.
Christensen added she was extremely disappointed in the statements released by the Lieutenant Governor’s Office that grossly misrepresented what has occurred.
“My staff has been in constant contact with his staff throughout this process and we enjoy a good working relationship with them,” said Christensen.
The statements also made no mention of notification that the Lieutenant Governor’s office received that expedited passport requests would also no longer be accepted at the Passport Office and that Virgin Islands residents would also have to travel to San Juan for this service.
“While my office was not officially informed of this, we learned of this additional policy change verbally from the Lt Governor’s staff on Wednesday and immediately began revising our correspondence to the State Department to include this policy change as well. Rather than play political games, my staff and I are focused on resuming these services for the people of the Virgin Islands,” said Christensen. “Until we are successful in establishing a more convenient and less burdensome process, we are urging residents to be aware of the new requirements and advise relatives in the neighboring Caribbean islands that the passport and visa situation is becoming more inflexible.”
Christensen strongly encourages US citizens residing in the Virgin Islands to make sure their US passports are valid and if they do not have a US passport and there is a possibility they may have to travel outside of the US to visit a gravely ill relative or attend a funeral, to apply for a passport now to avoid running into an emergency situation and having to incur the additional cost of traveling to Puerto Rico.
“In the meantime, we are trying to establish a more realistic method that is beneficial to my constituents and also to the passport agencies that serve the public,” Christensen concluded.