I was looking a State Department PDF and it listed a bunch of Honorary Consuls residing in various American cities. I understand that a Consul carries out official diplomatic duties and represents his country at a level below an Ambassador. Does an Honorary Consul have any official duties or is it just a ceremonial title? Does an Honorary Consul have any powers he can use if he chooses, like issuing a visa? I assume Honorary Consuls are citizens of the country that names them to the title but are there any other requirements or limitations?
Honorary consuls are more often than not nationals of the country in which they reside, not the country that, uh, “sends” them. Often they have some connection to the foreign country, like they lived there, or married someone from that country, or something like that.
They generally perform lower level functions of a consular officers, like maybe visiting someone in jail, or connecting a host country business to trade opportunities, but do not have authority to issue visas or passports without the support or intervention of “real” consular officers.
A consular officer is not a diplomatic officer. Diplomats carry out relations between countries, and consular officers are charged with looking after people and business interests.
Honorary consuls are also referred to as “consular agents”; while there may be a difference between the two terms, I’ve never gotten a handle on what it is.
A minor nitpick - U.S. honorary consuls do issue passports to U.S. citizens; when my son was born, I took him to the consul to have his citizenship established and his passport issued. They do not, however, handle visas.
The American Consul in Haifa - whom I know - is a good example. A native of New York who moved to Israel as a young man, he was working as a lawyer when the previous consul died in the late 80’s (the position is for life). He was hired by the U.S. to act as their representitive in Haifa and northern Israel, despite having no diplomatic training or experience; basically, he sees himself as a lawyer first, and the consulship as a part-time job.
Most of his work involves serving the needs of U.S. citizens in Haifan and the north - renewing passports, issuing birth certificates, vsiting people in jail, contacting realtives in the States, and basically getting Ameircan citizens out of jams. Besides that, he looks after U.S. business interests, accompanies visiting U.S. dignitaries, and acts as a laison between the city and the U.S. 6th Fleet. All in all, it’s a fun job - and hobnobbing with the Mayor and other bigwigs isn’t bad for business - but it takes up a lot of his time.
Most honorary consuls are businessmen. They leverage the position as a networking opportunity.