What an embassy can and cannot do for you?

18 Feb 2021 4 min. read

Embassies and consulates are the representatives of a country in another country. Their basic function is to maintain diplomatic relationships between their country and the host country. There are other functionalities that they undertake. Responsibilities like trade agreements, cultural tie-ups, dignitaries travel between countries are some of the responsibilities, embassies and consulates uphold. However, other than these, embassies and consulates have myriad responsibilities and duties.

What embassies and consulates can do?

These are the things the embassies and the consulates can do:

  • Issuing passports and visas are some of the most important functions that embassies and consulates perform. They can also extend the visa in case of time expiration. So, for example, if you are an Indian citizen stuck in the UK and wish to return and your visa is on the verge of expiration, then all you would need is to walk up to the Indian consulate or embassy and provide all the relevant documents and have it attested.
  • Embassies and consulates have liaison sections that answer the queries to the visiting populace. Hence, if you have any trade, education, medical-related queries that you would want to know in regards to the Netherlands, you would need to walk up to the Dutch consulate and ask for it. Of course, with the internet, all this information is now at our fingertips.
  • In case a foreign national is arrested in the host country, the local authorities will have to contact the consulate or in dire cases the embassy. This is because every foreign national visiting a different nation has to register themselves with the local consulate. Local law enforcement agencies need to keep the relevant consulate informed in case law has been broken by their national.
  • In continuation with the above point, the detainee will be provided with assistance, and their families back home will be informed about the proceedings and the way forward.
  • If the situation so demands, then the embassies and the consulates have extraordinary power to provide financial aid to individuals for repatriations. However, these are done only in extreme cases.
  • In the event a natural disaster strikes, the local consulate will have to take into cognizance the safety of its staff as well as visitors from their country currently present in the host country. They can also extend a helping hand to the host country if there is a failure of command and control on the part of the central or local government.

The embassies and consulates are responsible for the above actions other than the usual diplomatic administration. However, there are limits to what these government edifices can do.

What embassies and consulates cannot do?

Let`s look at the things the embassies and the consulates cannot do:

  • The embassy or the consulate cannot issue national identity documents on behalf of the government of the host country. That is the absolute prerogative of the host country. In the event it has been found out that such a circumstance has occurred, it will be considered to be a breach of conduct and international law.
  • The embassy or the consulate cannot act as travel agents. Their job is to provide specific administrative support. This will not be extended and merged into other job roles.
  • The embassy or the consulate is not an employment exchange. The people working in offices are not employment agents. They will not be looking for a job for you. So, if you have a request about the same, desist. 
  • If a foreign national is arrested, then the maximum an embassy or a consulate can provide is legal assistance. They cannot guarantee you a fair trial or even a lenient one. The local laws apply to everyone.
  • In the event of a medical emergency, the maximum what an embassy or a consulate can do is provide financial assistance and information regarding the medical infrastructure of the place, it can in no way influence better treatment. The medical infrastructure is the same for everyone, and the embassy or the consulate will have no role to play in such an event.
  • An embassy or a consulate can offer financial assistance to its national in extreme cases, but under ordinary circumstances, it will play no role of a money lender. It will not be involved in any role which involves a third-party financial program and has no jurisdiction to lend money from its coffers since that is tax money.
  • The embassy or a consulate does not provide guides and interpreters to individuals. This has to be borne by the individual. 
  • The embassy and the consulate will not be representing any individual in the court of law. It can at best, provide the state with information and assistance.

Though under international law, diplomatic immunity is being provided to diplomats based in third countries, heinous crimes are dealt with strictly and as per the laws of the land.
The leaders of countries use a diplomatic channel to keep in touch with each other and improve relations. There needs to be a channel of communication, and that is done through the embassy and the consulates. 

What is the difference between an Embassy and a Consulate?

It is pertinent to know that the embassy is the larger office, usually based in the capital city of the host country. The consulates are smaller offices based in the larger cities of the host country, barring the capital. The ambassador is the head representative of the country in the host country, while the consul generals are the ones leading the consulates.
Any diplomatic tension is handled by the ambassador and not by the consul general. Local challenges are taken care of by the heads of consulates, but their scope is limited. If the issues surpass those, then the issue will be passed on to the embassy, where the ambassador will take care of it.
For countries part of the Commonwealth, there are High Commissions instead of embassies. These high commissions are manned by High commissioners. The larger cities will continue to have consulates being headed by consul generals. 
However, whether it is an embassy or a high commission, the do’s and the don’ts do not differ. They are the same for everyone. International treatises bar any country from meddling in the internal affairs of the host country. Even if one does not have diplomatic relations with another country, it is illegal to meddle in their affairs. 
Embassies and consulates are powerful symbols of government influence. They convey a sense of strength to the local populace about the presence of another country in the world. However, they are also the centre of cultural activities encouraged to increase people-to-people contact. 

Embassy in the past and now

The concept of embassies goes a long way. Earlier kingdoms used to send emissaries to neighbouring kingdoms. They would carry gifts and a message. Wars and battles would end, treaties would be signed and diplomatic relations would be revived through the travel of these messengers. The modern-day version of such a messenger is the ambassador or the high commissioner. They do not just carry out messages of peace, tranquillity, and good relationships but economic cooperation too. Trade is a focal point of responsibility for embassies and consulates, and such opportunities shall never be missed.