Consular Support Staff: Educators, Experts, and Team Players

Francia Elias (left) and Katelyn Hinkins (right) pose for a picture in front of the United States Seal.

By: Graham Swaney, Public Affairs Intern

In her work at the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo, local employee Francia Elias educates, advises, and supports American staff.  She helps them perform at the highest level possible, grow as employees, and learn about the Dominican Republic.

Francia has been working at the U.S. Embassy for 27 years and won the employee of the month award in June of this year. She is a lawyer by training and helps American Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) understand judicial documents. She also helps them understand Dominican culture and slang. Recently she helped her FSO colleague Katelyn Hinkins reduce a backlog of complicated cases by 90 percent!

Francia’s success shows the critical role that local staff play in the consular section. Each year dozens of FSOs are tasked with handling hundreds of thousands of visa applications! To handle this immense workload, over 100 local staff like Francia help FSOs work through cases thoroughly and efficiently. They review applicant documents, and bring specific expertise to bare on a variety of portfolios, allowing American officers to focus on the interview process and final decision.

Customer service is a major priority at the Embassy and all consular staff work hard to serve visa applicants courteously and efficiently. Visa decisions have a major impact on the applicant and it is important to honor that through a fair and timely review of their application. Moreover, providing high quality service to the Dominican public is an important way to demonstrate our commitment to our bilateral relationship. Francia exemplifies this attitude saying “I try to treat every applicant as if I were the applicant.”

A group of people sand and sit in a waiting room
Visa applicants in the U.S. Embassy waiting room to interview for a visa.

Local staff also have a special relationship with FSOs. The FSOs in the office are constantly changing and according to Francia this means that every few years she will have a new manager with “new ways.” This environment can be challenging and requires all staff to be highly adaptable. However, the combination of new Americans and tenured Dominicans is also the section’s greatest strength. Foreign Service Officers will often bring new ideas or techniques to the office from other posts, while local staff can help them avoid pitfalls that previous officers had encountered at post.

The Santo Domingo consular section also has an especially large number of new Foreign Service Officers. Consequently, Santo Domingo, and its local staff have a special role to play in developing the staff that will support the Foreign Service for many years. Their experiences here help them learn to become better interviewers, managers, and leaders. Local staff contribute to this process by sharing their extensive experience with officers, and writing them performance reviews.

Finally, local staff impart a little bit of Dominican office culture on their American counterparts. American officers are often a bit more sociable and open by the time they leave post if not a bit louder. As Francia explained it, a strong social environment in the office helps break up what can sometimes be mechanical and monotonous work. Katelyn Hinkins said that she’s learned from her time in the D.R. that if you’re going to work hard “you have to play hard too.

A woman bounces pencils into a can.
Francia bounces pencils into a can during the Consular Section’s office olympics.

“Day in the Life…” is a series that focuses on U.S. Embassy Santo Domingo employees and the work they do in strengthening the bilateral relationships between our two countries.