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Piles of residency permits stacked up on U.S. bases around Italy should be getting smaller over the next few weeks.

U.S. and Italian officials reached an agreement in late December on how to issue soggiorno permits to U.S. citizens attached to missions run by the Department of Defense and State Department. The two governments had differed over Italy’s implementation of new regulations in January 2007, resulting in a backlog of more than 3,000 applications on U.S. facilities around the country.

Ben Duffy, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Rome, said the two sides agreed to some changes in the process, but “from the standpoint of the individual applying, it’s a process that closely resembles the former one.”

That process varies from base to base. But it differs from the Italian mandate for all foreigners in the country that they obtain and fill out documents at the post office and pay a series of fees. The U.S. maintained that fees shouldn’t be charged under existing agreements and that bases or consulate offices should be able to act as intermediaries in the process.

Some civilians in the Naples area already have new soggiornos, according to Lt. Cmdr. Wendy Snyder, a public affairs spokeswoman for U.S. Navy Region Europe. Snyder said 84 permits have been processed through a local police headquarters in Naples. Others have been turned in to the two offices that handle such permits in the greater Naples area. The base hopes to get about a two-week turnaround from the time applications are submitted until the permits are issued, she said.

Navy officials at Naval Air Station Sigonella have submitted the first three dozen of about 300 applications awaiting processing.

Applications have also been submitted by Army officials in Vicenza — where a turnaround of about a week is expected. The Air Force just submitted its first applications in more than a year Thursday.

Sannie Morat, a soggiorno technician at Aviano Air Base, said it would take a while to clear the backlog. “Within six months, I think we’ll take care of it,” she said.

Officers from the local police office in Pordenone will be visiting the base once a week and expect to return completed applications in about a month, she said. Officials have said there are not enough officers in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region — which has one of the largest percentages of foreigners in Italy — to make the process faster.

Morat said applicants should submit paperwork at least a month before their entry visas or current applications expire.

Master Sgt. Anthony Harris said the office in Aviano was prioritizing applications based on need. Third-country citizens married to servicemembers, for instance, are judged to be in greatest need because they face tighter restrictions.

He stressed patience, saying, “Since the process has been on hold for a year, everybody thinks their situation is dire.”

The permits aren’t required for active-duty personnel stationed in Italy. But their families and DOD civilians need them. They’re supposed to be carried with people at all times with passports, but are generally most required when re-entering the country at checkpoints such as airports.

Military commands issued letters to those traveling without valid permits while the process was stalled and officials at Aviano said they didn’t know of any instances where Americans had run afoul of the law.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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