The United States is host to roughly 170 foreign embassies and, by some counts, over 700 foreign consulates. Operating and maintaining these diplomatic outposts requires legions of personnel. What many observers don’t realize is that not all of those folks are actually foreign nationals, much less accredited diplomats. In fact, the foreign embassies and consulates of most countries – including the United States – rely in part on “local hires” to fill a variety of jobs. These positions are often advertised on generic job search websites in the host country; sometimes, the identity of the employer is kept intentionally vague until applicants make it through an initial screening process.
Embassies Often Hire Locally
Local hire positions are typically in fields like clerical support, groundskeeping, maintenance, routine visa processing, media affairs, and other relatively non-sensitive support roles that aren’t directly involved with actual diplomatic relations. They don’t carry diplomatic immunity, nor do they afford access to the foreign country’s classified information.
Nonetheless, these positions can prove enticing to someone with a flair for the exotic, an interest in international relations, or ancestral connections to the foreign country. In some cases, embassy or consulate local hires later seek to pursue a career that requires U.S. government security clearance. That’s precisely when their seemingly benign service to a foreign government comes back to haunt them.
Do Clearances and Former Embassy Jobs Mix?
If you’re considering accepting a job offer as a local hire at a foreign country’s embassy or consulate, make no mistake about it: you will be in for a rocky ride if you ever seek to apply for a U.S. government security clearance down the road. The ride will be especially bumpy if you had access to U.S. government classified information before you worked for the foreign government in question. The assumption will be that you divulged U.S. government secrets to the foreign country; and/or, that you’re applying for the security clearance at the behest of the foreign country’s intelligence service. The U.S. government will rarely make that assertion outright, but the unspoken suspicion will always be lurking below the surface.
Over the years, I’ve seen this issue pop-up with security clearance applicants on at least a handful of memorable occasions. The identity of the foreign country at issue certainly plays a role in the assessment of risk; if you worked at a Chinese or Russian embassy or consulate, you can kiss your prospects of a clearance goodbye. But more than that, the acceptance of employment at any foreign embassy or consulate raises the specter of what the National Adjudicative Guidelines for Security Clearances term “Foreign Preference.” We’ve also seen it alleged as a security risk under the rarely used “Outside Activities” criteria of those same Guidelines.
Mitigating Circumstances and Considerations
Under the right circumstances, situations like these can sometimes be mitigated, allowing the individual to obtain the necessary U.S. government security clearance. However, with the notable exception that the individual was working undercover as a U.S. intelligence operative, such an outcome is not obtained without substantial stress, time, and cost in legal fees.
If you anticipate ever needing a U.S. government security clearance for future employment, I strongly recommend shying away from jobs at a foreign government’s embassy or consulate unless you’re applying at the behest of Uncle Sam. The short-term gain may be quickly overshadowed by long-term limitations.
This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation.