THE US Embassy’s deputy chief of mission Joseph FitzGerald said the consulate has outgrown the embassy building at Marli Street, Port of Spain and will soon announce plans to build a new one.
FitzGerald raised the issue while responding to a question posed by a Rotary Club member during a covid19 outlook webinar on Wednesday night.
He said one of the embassy’s biggest challenges in Trinidad and Tobago is providing efficient services at the building it occupies.
“We are in a very antiquated building that is not fit for service, it doesn't meet our security specs, and we've outgrown it and we're actually in four separate buildings. So the US Embassy is hoping to buy and build a new embassy in the next several years, which I think would be great.
“It would be an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars coming into the economy at a time when it's needed, by just the process of building the embassy alone.”
Not only will it assist with post-covid19 economic stimulation activity, he said, “It will also be a great symbol of how important the bilateral relationship is between government and the way we are making progress.”
Though the consulate is still identifying land space for the construction, FitzGerald said, “We're hoping very soon to be able to make some kind of announcement of a new facility once this progress is ongoing. Washington knows that the need is there, and the relationship merits a new embassy, so that's probably my biggest challenge on a day-to-day basis.”
He went on to speak about financial issues facing the embassy brought on by travel restrictions because of the pandemic. Currently, the Consular Affairs Bureau, not only in TT but globally, is struggling to support itself.
“Our Consular Affairs Bureau is fully funded by its visa fees, visa and ACS (American Citizen Service) fees. So with the reduction with the collapse of global demand for visas, passports, we've been struggling for the first time ever, and had to request from the Congress additional money to help pay for consular affairs services, because they can no longer be self-supporting.”
Asked if the embassy has plans to vaccinate its citizens in TT, he said the State Department is not able to provide vaccinations for all Americans abroad.
“That's just not only limited to TT, it's not happening anywhere.
"It doesn’t mean that in the future it won't happen. But for the time being, in the short to medium term, it's probably not going to happen. Still, we are very grateful and appreciative that the government of TT has announced that it will vaccinate all residents living in TT, to include American citizens.”
FitzGerald was asked about plans to deal with solutions to deal with the bottleneck of first-time visa applications and other services post-covid19. He said the embassy is working on developing solutions, but these plans would depend on the conditions of the Public Health Ordinance.
But he reminded holders of US visas that expired within the last four years of the option of renewal without having to go in for an interview. This option is valid until December 31.