BY TOM YAZDGERDI
Now that the summer transfer season is upon us in earnest, we know our members have many questions and concerns about what to do and how to plan, especially those with school-age children.
These are unprecedented times that require creativity and flexibility; the same business-as-usual mentality will not do.
We want to make certain that as the State Department implements the Diplomacy Strong initiative to reopen domestic and overseas posts, it is done safely and based on local conditions.
AFSA continues to engage with department management on getting you answers that are as clear and comprehensive as possible. While by no means an exhaustive list, here are some of the issues that we have been working on with our colleagues in Global Talent Management. Hopefully, these will have been largely resolved by the time you read this.
Global Authorized Departure. With GAD’s expiration, we have received worried messages about what to do if the COVID-19 situation significantly worsens in various areas.
At the beginning of the pandemic, many of our members in Africa, South and Central Asia, and Central and South America, for example, felt safer staying in place rather than returning to the United States. Now, however, some of these “Phase Zero” countries, especially Brazil and India, are hot spots for the virus and, as of this writing, have not yet reached their peak infection rate.
We have asked the department to extend GAD or otherwise find a means to make certain our members serving in these posts feel safe.
Some of our members feel stuck in places like Brazil, where COVID-19 seems to be moving largely unchecked through the population, while at the moment the situation in the United States appears to be improving, at least in some areas.
Of course, individual posts can still decide to request authorized departure based on local conditions. In the absence of an extension of GAD, we encourage members to engage with post leadership to use that route if they feel unsafe.
Delayed Home Leave. Some members have asked if they can defer their home leave because they would feel safer traveling directly to their next post. Home leave in the United States is required, but AFSA agrees that if there is increased risk for people traveling back home this summer, it makes sense to delay.
As one of our members put it: “With the COVID situation in the United States significantly worse than in some of the posts many of us are stationed in, the logistics of quarantine, home leave and getting to post in time for the school year just don’t make sense.”
We have asked our GTM colleagues to address this problem and, at the very least, clearly explain to employees how to proceed if their request for delayed or deferred home leave is not approved.
Long-Term Training in Fall 2020. Many members who are slated to begin language or functional training in the fall wonder how this will be accomplished. The good news is that language students can take remote language classes from any location that works for them.
The problem is that as the department moves from Phase 1 to Phase 2, students and their families might have little time to prepare to return to the FSI campus.
Regarding the consular course (ConGen), FSI is exploring whether some segments can be delivered virtually. But FSI says that it is not possible to teach the entire course virtually and still maintain the security necessary for the consular systems.
Again, it is not clear what ConGen students should expect, or what those who have completed language and other training and just need ConGen to be ready to go to post should do.
Use-or-Lose Leave. Because of COVID-19 and travel restrictions, some of our colleagues have not been able to take use-or-lose leave. This includes chargés d’affaires, who are limited by the rule against double absence; but it also affects many others who for various reasons find their use-or-lose balance increasing to a point where it will be nearly impossible to manage.
The Department of Defense has recognized this problem and has already raised the ceiling to 120 days through September 2023 due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. We think it makes sense for State to follow suit, or find a means to restore leave. AFSA strongly supports a bill introduced in Congress in early May that would do this: bit.ly/annualleave- benefits-bill. We will follow up with our GTM colleagues.
PPE Available Domestically and Overseas. We have gotten confirmation that personal protective equipment—gloves, masks, sanitizing lotions—will be available at State and other domestic facilities and at overseas posts as the department begins to reopen, along with clear instructions on social distancing.
Please keep your questions and concerns coming to firstname.lastname@example.org.