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Transcript of Live Web Chat held on Wednesday, March 7, at 4:00pm Moscow time

Transcript of Live Web Chat held on Wednesday, March 7, at 4:00 pm Moscow time

1. Vice Consul 1: Welcome to today’s webchat for U.S. citizens in Russia offered by your American Citizen Services (ACS) unit at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

2. Vice Consul 1: The Embassy’s ACS Unit exists to serve Americans traveling or residing in Russia. As Ambassador McFaul has stated, the protection of American citizens and their interests is our top priority. In ACS, our primary goal is to meet the needs of American citizens while providing them with premier customer service. ACS generally provides emergency services to Americans in cases of arrest, death, crime victimization, repatriation, medical evacuation, temporary financial assistance and welfare-and-whereabouts cases. We also assist in non-emergency matters of birth, identity, passport, citizenship, registration, and judicial assistance.

3. Vice Consul 1: Today’s webchat is another opportunity for us to address the needs of U.S. citizens in our consular district in and around Moscow. Our goal is to address your questions and get to know what is on your mind, as a U.S. citizen in Russia.

4. Vice Consul 1: After today’s session, we hope that you will look for new information from the Embassy for American citizens from time-to-time by following us on our Facebook site at http://www.facebook.com/American.Citizen.Services.Moscow and http://moscow.usembassy.gov/service.html.

5. Vice Consul 1: Responding to your questions and comments today are two Vice Consuls who handle ACS matters on a daily basis. Now, let’s get to the webchat. Are there any questions out there?

6. Participant 1: I have questions about a fiancée visa, I had an interview and the consular officer asked to provide additional information such as emails. It’s been 5 weeks since I sent it and it's now under review. Is there any time limit when we will receive an answer? And second question when I send email to embassy, is it forwarded to the consular officer who is working on our case, right? So why every time I am sending emails, I am getting answers from different consular officers?! How can know that someone is really working with our case and reading our emails?!And why it's taking so long just simple to read our emails and made decision?
* Vice Consul 1: Participant 1, thanks for your question but it is best directed to the Immigrant Visa Unit, not the American Citizen Services Unit. Best to contact them at ConsulMo@state.gov.

7. Participant 2: we are registered in FL, how can we register for elections in November? Is it possible to vote in Moscow?
* Vice Consul 2: Great question! New federal and state laws – and technology – will make 2012 the easiest election year in history for overseas U.S. voters. Voting overseas in 2012 requires you to re-register, using your last legal residence in the U.S., through the following shockingly-easy process detailed on http://moscow.usembassy.gov/vote2012.html. In short, you should start by going to http://www.fvap.gov/ to register. This site contains a ‘wizard’ that will direct you based on your own state’s regulations, and complete your Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) — the form you need to complete this year to participate in the 2012 elections as an overseas absentee voter.
* Vice Consul 2: http://www.fvap.gov/map.html has state-specific information on overseas voting. We recommend that you register to vote/request an absentee ballot in January of each year, or at least 90 days before Election Day.
* Vice Consul 2: The bottom line is that you can vote absentee in any election for Federal office if you are a U.S. citizen 18 years or older and are a U.S. citizen residing outside the United States.

8. Participant 3: There have been reports that Russia is considering suspending US adoptions. Do you have any information on this? Thank you.
* Vice Consul 1: Participant 3, we are aware of the Russian media reports of a proposed moratorium on adoptions between Russia and the United States until the bilateral adoption agreement signed by Secretary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov on July 13, 2011 enters into force.
* Vice Consul 1: The Russian government has not given the Department of State any official notice that adoptions to the United States have been suspended. We are aware of the tragic adoption cases and are committed to the well-being of adopted children. That's why we signed the bilateral adoption agreement with Russia and we're eager to see the Russian Parliament's ratification of the agreement so we may implement it.

9. Participant 2: can I [register to vote via absentee ballot] on line or must it be sent by mail? And should it be sent to embassy here in Moscow
* Vice Consul 2: You may register and request an absentee ballot with a single form: The Federal Post Card Application. Please see http://www.fvap.gov/index.html to get started and find this application.
This application form is accepted by all States and territories and is postage- paid in the U.S. mail or can be mailed in from overseas. An online version of the Voter Registration/Absentee Ballot Request form is also available. The online version of the form must be mailed in an envelope with proper postage, or mailed using our prepaid return envelope. Your Voter Registration/Absentee Ballot Request form must be completed, printed, signed, dated and mailed directly to your local election official.
So, you can do it from anywhere you have internet access and there is no need to specifically visit the Embassy for this – though we are happy to answer any questions you may have in person about this process.

10. Participant 1: we both were sending many questions many times and or we were getting answers like the case is under review, contact us in a week or no one answered us at all! Just we keep waiting and waiting for so long and no news
* Vice Consul 1: Participant 1, please understand that immigrant visa cases can take much more time to review than non-immigrant cases, but I can assure your case is being reviewed. We are happy to help facilitate communication between you and the immigrant visa department. Please send the questions regarding your case to moscowwarden@state.gov and we will ensure a consular officer gets your message.

11. Participant 2: thank you for your answers, I will go on websites and when I have more question I will contact you, have a great weekend
* Vice Consul 2: We hope you have a great weekend too. Thanks for participating in today's chat!

12. Participant 1: thank you. I hope we will get good news soon

13. Vice Consul 2: Are there any additional questions out there? In the meantime, we wanted to highlight that to the left of your screen we have some useful and interesting web links you may want to check out. http://moscow.usembassy.gov/service.html (U.S. Citizen Services) contains an overview of our office and a listing of the services that the American Citizen Services section provides. http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1006.html (Russian Federation Country Specific Information) contains a variety of information that may be useful to U.S. citizens living, working, and/or visiting Russia.

14. Participant 4: I've been very pleased with the helpfulness of the US Citizen Services folks. Last summer, I needed extra passport pages added, in addition to the extra pages already there, and the customer service was excellent. I telephoned and was very pleased with the courtesy and knowledge of the help staff....
* Vice Consul 1: Thanks Participant 4, we are always happy to hear compliments on our service. That said, we also appreciate honest feedback when we are not meeting our citizen's needs.

15. Vice Consul 2: In fact, the U.S. Department of State provides information on every country in the world. For each country, you will find information like the location of the U.S. embassy and any consular offices; whether you need a visa; crime and security information; health and medical conditions; drug penalties; and localized hot spots here: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_4965.html. This is a good place to start learning about where you are going.

16. Participant 4: The Facebook page is a useful tool. Also I really was impressed with the recent email from Ambassador McFaul, in which he introduced himself and such. Such great communication.
* Vice Consul 2: Thank you, Participant 4! The Ambassador is an active social media user. For other folks interested in following the Ambassador online, please see http://moscow.usembassy.gov/ambassador.html for links to his blog and twitter feed. Also, please do consider following and "liking" us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/American.Citizen.Services.Moscow Also, please see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RONx9t7LR-8 for the Ambassador's Message to American Citizens in Russia.

17. Participant 4: I would have some *trivia questions* to ask, only if there's no one else in line here. . .
* Vice Consul 1: Sure, feel free to share what's on your mind.

18. Participant 2: Well, thank you. Just wondering, do you have a ”guestimate” of how many US citizens live in Russia. (trivia, I know....) And maybe how that compares with the numbers before, say 2008, when Russian visa laws changed..... Just curious. ;)
* Vice Consul 1: That's an interesting question and we'd like to know exactly how many US citizens are living in Russia ourselves. We estimate in the tens of thousands but frankly there is no formal census, beyond who registers with us, to specifically answer your question.

19. Participant 4: Thanks so much for those links, I will for sure want to subscribe to the ambassador's blog and twitter feed.
* Vice Consul 2: We would be remiss, however, if we do not mention Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) as outlined in http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/registration/registration_4789.html. By signing up for our free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (formerly known as “Travel Registration” or “Registration with Embassies”), you will receive the latest travel updates and information to wherever you are travelling. When you sign up, you will automatically receive the most current information we compile about the country where you will be traveling or living. You will also receive updates, including Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts (where appropriate). You only need to sign up once, and then you can add and delete trips from your account based on your current travel plans. By connecting with us on the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, we will be able to assist you better in the case of an emergency, such as if you lose your passport or it is stolen while you are abroad. The travel and contact information you enter into our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program will make it easier for consular officers in U.S. embassies and consulates around the world to contact you and your loved ones during an emergency —including situations where your family or friends in the U.S. are having problems trying to contact you with important news. All the personal information you provide to us is protected under the Privacy Act of 1974. This law prohibits us from sharing the information with anyone without your written authorization. Certain exceptions exist, such as when we need to share information on a limited basis in order to protect your safety and welfare in extreme circumstances.

20. Participant 4: Back in 2005, Ambassador Vershbow visited Rostov-on-Don, where I live. As I recall, he had some official business to tend to (well, of course) but also brought several embassy staff members to help U.S. citizens with various issues. For example, I was able to renew my passport, what a relief. AND I got to actually meet the ambassador face-to-face. This was a highlight. As I recall, he made visits to various Russian cities... Since then, when Ambassador Beyrle was in office, I became very interested in his story, especially the story of his father's serving in WWII. As you may know, Joe Beyrle is thought to be the only soldier who served in both the US and Soviet armies. I'm just curious - and I know this is outside the scope of this webchat - but I'd be interested in an update on Ambassador Beyrle....
* Vice Consul 2: Thanks for this feedback. This is a great example of the importance of conducting such outreach. The last we have heard from Ambassador Beyrle is on his blog. We recommend that you follow him there (http://beyrle.livejournal.com/) for updates. Thanks again for all your great questions and comments!

21. Participant 4: Thank you and enjoy the 8th of March! ;)

22. Vice Consul 1: Thanks to everyone who attended today’s webchat. If you have further questions, you’re welcome to contact us anytime at moscowwarden@state.gov. Have a wonderful evening!