WILLIAMSBURG — It was a birthday celebration at the US State Department's Kentucky Consular Center in Williamsburg on Wednesday. The center turned 17 this year.
When it opened in 2000 it had just 45 employees to administer the US Diversity Visa program. Now, the Center boasts over 400 employees whose work supports US border security programs and operations at the US Embassies around the world.
There are still eight employees who started day one and still work at the facility.
"We're extremely fortunate to have great people to work with us," Deputy Director Virginia Combs said noting that all the employees are very hard workers and the facility experiences very little turnover.
The Kentucky Consular Center handles the Diversity Visa program which is run by the US Department of State. The program makes 55,000 diversity immigrant visas each year available for randomly selected entrants from eligible countries. The Diversity Visa lottery is run once a year, usually in October, and selectees are randomly chosen by computer, who then may apply for a diversity immigrant visa.
The Kentucky Consular Center processes all the Diversity Visas except for 5,000.
When the Center first opened, that was all it handled with all 45 employees working on it, but that was when it was all done on paper. Now, with the program being done electronically, only 20 employees at the Center work in that department and it's only part of what the Center's employees do.
Now the Center does facial recognition to help provide secure borders for the United Sates and to prevent fraud. The Center reviews about 40 million facial recognition entries a year.
The employees at the Center who do facial recognition reach about 2,000 per day per person. It takes them about 18 to 20 seconds per face to decide if there are any matches.
Employee Kurt Marlow demonstrated how he reviews a face and the possible matches that show up on his computer screen.
First he looks at the ears and then looks at other features that cannot be easily changed such as space between the eyes, chin shape, eye shape, etc.
"Everyone has their own routine," he said noting that while 18 to 20 seconds is the ideal amount of time it should take to decide if there is a match, it is more important to do the job correctly.
"Once you spot a difference you can move on," James Jackson, operations manager, said.
Once employees like Marlow submit if there is a match to a face or not, then that's it, there is no going back to review it at the Center. However it does get sent to another agency who has more than just the photos the Center has to review. The next agency will also look at birth dates, etc.
Director Chris Beard explained that the data infrastructure in place due to Williamsburg's location along I-75 brought the Kentucky Consular Center there. With the amount of data that goes in and out of the Center, having that connectivity was important.
The Kentucky Consular Center hopes to be able to continue to grow and to continue to support the US Embassies and border security programs in the future.
"We're proud of all of it," Beard said.