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Ranking Member Risch Opening Statement at Hearing on State Department Consular Affairs and Programs

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today gave the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing on State Department services for the American people: an overview of consular affairs and programs. Witnesses included The Honorable Rena Bitter, assistant secretary of State at the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the Department of State. 

Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:

“Thank you, Assistant Secretary Bitter for being here today. Mr. Chairman, I get those calls too, but usually it’s 4:00pm on Friday. Thursday is a luxury.

“In any event, thank you for the important work you do – it is critically important for a vast swath of Americans who take up these services. At the request of the Department, when I was overseas, I actually sat in on some of the interviews that the frontline people over there do when they are issuing visas and I was incredibly impressed with their ability and the efficiency and respect that they carry out in their job. I really appreciate that.

“I have said that Americans have been struggling to get passports for years now and waiting weeks longer than they did before the pandemic, as the chairman has pointed out. Foreigners have to wait months, sometimes years, to visit the United States. These delays directly hurt American industry, slow economic growth, and delay reuniting families.

“This is especially true in my state of Idaho, where our major manufacturers like Micron technology have trouble getting visas for workers who are desperately needed to stay ahead of their competition, or our farmers who have problems getting visas for seasonal ag workers, and our world class resorts have trouble attracting tourists who can’t get visas to vacation in Idaho.    

“As the chairman has referred to, and I’m sure every member of this committee has dealt with, there have been countless calls from constituents to help in that regard.

“I understand there was a backlog that developed during COVID and the Department is still digging out, but let’s be clear – the Department time and time again has failed to plan for crises and instead becomes a victim of them. This needs to change. 

“Given all of this, I was particularly frustrated when I watched the evacuation from Sudan. Sudan wasn’t the first problem I’ve had with State Department evacuations. I was, as were a lot of people, horrified by the catastrophic evacuation of Afghanistan. Our evacuation of Kyiv also left much to be desired, particularly in terms of getting people back in when we opened up.

“If I sound a little frustrated, it’s because I am. A hearing like this should be about highlighting the great work that the State Department does to serve the American people. 

“Every American gets their passport from the State Department. Every American whose family member needed a visa to be reunited with a loved one must work with the State Department. 

“Every American adopting a child internationally, or alternatively, who is fighting to bring a parentally abducted child back home, must go through State. The same office, the Office of Children’s Issues, serves both of these purposes, but woefully continues to miss the mark in true service to Americans.

“When Americans get in trouble abroad, the State Department should be there to help, and we often contact them to do so.

“To be clear, there is much to celebrate in the Bureau of Consular Affairs and more broadly with our hard-working consular officers working across the world. However, I’m afraid the problems right now currently outweigh the successes and the cheerleading regarding the service must be tempered by the reality of where we are today. With that, again, thank you for being here. We are anxious to hear how you will fix all this.”

These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on