By Courtnay Rosenberger and Chris Breding
The Department recently celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Consular Affairs Appointment-Eligible Family Members (CA-AEFM) program, which allows EFMs to serve as vice consuls at overseas missions. The CA-AEFM program provides job continuity between posts and strengthens family members’ resumes by allowing them continuous employment and the ability to utilize their skills. Since 2015, the Department has hired hundreds of CA-AEFMs. After their initial assignments, approximately four out of five of these employees joined the Civil Service or the Foreign Service continuing their careers in diplomacy.
Before joining the 200th A-100 class, former CA-AEFM Amy Conroy not only found the work highly rewarding but stated that being a CA-AEFM helped her begin her new career as a Foreign Service officer (FSO). “My managers took an interest in my professional development and encouraged me to take advantage of volunteer opportunities around the embassy,” said Conroy.
Similar to FSOs, CA-AEFMs must first pass the Board of Examiners’ written exam and oral assessment, receive a top-secret security clearance, receive overseas medical clearance, and pass a suitability review to become certified. Instead of being placed on a register like FSOs, CA-AEFMs receive a certification, which allows them to serve at their spouse’s current or onward overseas assignment as a consular officer when an opening is available. If the service need exists, the CA-AEFMs are assigned as vice consuls once they accept an offer to attend an orientation class.
After orientation, CA-AEFMs attend functional training at the Foreign Service Institute, and many individuals also receive language training alongside their spouses. Once they complete all required training, they receive their Consular Commission and head to post on an official assignment. As long as they serve one year overseas, they are also eligible to join the Foreign Service Family Reserve Corps.
“We joined because we wanted to have fulfilling careers with the assurance that we could do so living alongside our spouses and partners,” said Kindall Hayes, a CA-AEFM who served as a consular adjudicator in Bogota speaking on behalf of herself and fellow CA-AEFMs at her orientation.
Another added benefit of the program is that after one year of service at their sponsoring employee’s post of assignment, CA-AEFMs are eligible for non-competitive eligibility, a special hiring authority through which they can be appointed to Civil Service positions without competing with the general public.
Alex Watson, a former linguist and now FSO, who served two and a half years as a CA-AEFM in Ho Chi Minh City believes the program is, “an ideal intersection of my passion for public service and my professional background in foreign languages and cultures.”
Jennifer Becker served as the consular chief in Nuevo Laredo, managing a mix of consular adjudicators, including CA-AEFMs. “The differences between the HR [hiring] streams were invisible to Post,” said Becker. “All [consular adjudicators] did the same job with the same opportunities. They went through the unit rotations just the same as Foreign Service vice consuls and had the same opportunities for extra duties.”
Deborah Fairman, former consul general in New Delhi and currently in Kuala Lumpur, sees the CA-AEFM program as a win-win for both the Department and the employee because of the cost savings and employment opportunities. As with other family member employment opportunities, since many of the benefits at Post are derived from the sponsoring spouse, there is a considerable cost-benefit to the Department. Utilizing the professional skills and qualifications of family members provides an opportunity for not only Foreign Service spouses and the Department, but for managers as well.
“In my experience, [CA-AEFMs] bring tremendous value,” said Fairman. “They are extremely hard-working, and always bring a bit of hiring mechanism diversity to the table.”
Most crucially, the program fosters the inclusion of talented eligible family members as valuable contributors in the Foreign Service community and provides CA-AEFMs with an opportunity to support the Department’s broader mission while building their professional experience for future employment.
More information about the CA-AEFM program can be found on the Family Liaison Office’s Vacancy Announcement.
Courtnay Rosenberger is a Consular Affairs Appointment-Eligible Family Member (CA-AEFM) in Doha. Chris Breding is a career development officer for the CA-AEFM program.