updated 9:16 PM CET, Dec 1, 2020

American Citizens Abroad calls on U.S. gov't to 'prioritize' expats' access to 'essential services'

The American Citizens Abroad has called on the Assistant Secretary of State, Carl Risch, to "prioritize overseas Americans' access to essential U.S. citizen services," citing "continuing reports" it's been receiving "regarding the serious delays, to outright inability, of some U.S. citizens to access" key U.S. citizen services outside of the country.

The ACA's action came days ahead of  a request by a Paris-based organization that represents so-called accidental Americans in France – via a letter to the U.S. ambassador in that country – that she act to "re-open without delay" the U.S. Federal Benefits Unit in France, as well as the offices that handle citizenship renunciations. These offices, Accidental Americans Association president Fabien Lehagre told Ambassador Jamie McCourt in his letter, have now been closed "for more than seven months," even though other key U.S. Embassy services have remained open.

In her letter to Risch dated Oct. 19, ACA executive director Marylouise Serrato said ACA understood that "U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide have been working under unusual and difficult situations due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown."

"With many U.S. embassies and consulates still closed or with limited servicing and with reductions in staffing, U.S. citizens services have been, and continue to be, seriously affected," she added.

Serrato said ACA had been hearing from "members and supporters" that some expat parents were unable to arrange appointments at their local U.S. embassies or consulates for such things as Consular Reports of Birth Abroad (CRBA) and applications for Social Security numbers for their children.

"Additionally, there are still reported delays for U.S. citizens who are first-time applicants for passports and those renewing expiring passports," Serrato, who is based in the ACA's Washington, DC-area offices, went on.

"CRBA reports are especially critical for those who need to travel or repatriate – return to the U.S. – and need to apply for their children’s U.S. passport.

"Equally important are the Social Security numbers for dependent children, which are essential for qualifying for the CARES Act Economic Impact Payments (EIP), and no doubt will be needed for future COVID-19 stimulus efforts.

"As you are certainly aware, with the implementation of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) legislation, many foreign banks are requesting their U.S. citizen clients provide [them with] U.S. Social Security numbers. Since the implementation of the legislation, it has been reported to ACA that there have been serious delays in the procurement of Social Security numbers for first-time applicants.

"The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown has only made the process worse. ACA has had reports from individuals who have been told that due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, it may take up to eight to 10 months for the procurement of a Social Security number.

"Without this information, many banks are simply closing accounts or denying accounts to US citizens. In some cases, this leaves individuals without the means to receive salary payments or make payments for housing, utilities and basic expenses."

The American Citizens Abroad is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that exists to help Americans who live overseas. It was founded in 1978 in Geneva, Switzerland, and moved its headquarters to the U.S. in 2012.

Although primarily known for its tax reform advocacy efforts, the ACA also advocates on other issues of concern to Americans living abroad, including access while abroad to such U.S. programs as Medicare and Social Security; voting from abroad; and representation in Washington.

It's also known for helping Americans struggling with such issues as getting and maintaining bank accounts overseas, which for the last few years it's done by helping expats to obtain "ACA-Member/State Department Federal Credit Union (SDFCU) accounts," which were launched four years ago.