Dawn of a New Day? US State Department Reaches Out to Agents in Vietnam

220px-Department_of_state.svgFor the times they are a-changin’!  I (and quite a few others) recently received an email from the US Embassy-Hanoi that began thus:

The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi presents its compliments to your company.  On February 22, 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and the Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City introduced an exciting new service making it easier for all nonimmigrant visa applicants to schedule their appointments, obtain information about the visa application process, and arrange for home delivery of their passports – all for one standard fee.

As part of our outreach efforts, we would like to invite one representative from your company (preferably one representative who has experience completing the DS-160 visa application form and making online visa appointments) to attend a meeting with consular officers of the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi at 8:30 a.m. on Friday…

What’s more exciting than the new visa service is the fact that the US Mission (i.e., the US Department of State/DOS) is reaching out to education agents, which were previously treated as pariahs – in accordance with policy.  In fact, since I began living and working in Vietnam, I would go so far as to characterize this outreach effort as unprecedented.  When I was working as country director of the Institute of International Education-Vietnam, it’s something I and one of my then staff, who is now an EducationUSA (i.e., DOS) adviser, proposed.  Our then employer scuttled the idea out of fear that its primary patron, said DOS, would disapprove.  And since customer and benefactor are king (or queen), the idea was nixed.

Education USA(1)Kudos to the DOS for seeing the light and doing what needs to be done!  Since I’m guessing that this initiative was given the green light by someone in DC, it’s the dawn of a new day, so to speak.  In reaching out to education consultants, which is how most Vietnamese and other Asian students find their way to US (and other foreign) colleges and universities, the US government is following in the well-worn footsteps of its friendly competitors, including Australia and the UK.

US Commercial ServiceAmazingly, this could mean that, for the first time ever, both State and Commerce  – through its US Commercial Service offices – will present a united front and that the government they represent will speak with one voice.  This type of constructive engagement, which could help contribute to the professionalization of the industry, is good news for students, parents and US institutions of higher education.  A triple win.  To borrow a line from Casablanca, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.


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