Assistant Section officer (ASO) in MEA (Ministry of External Affairs)
Basic Pay: Rs. 44,900/-
Salary in Foreign Posting: Depends on posted country. MEA has its own formula considering the cost of living, pricing index, currency evaluation of every country (salary varies from 1 lac to 2.xx lacs)
Assistant in MEA is the most sought after job with least chances of earnings except from your salary.
- You need to score really well in CGL Exam(read rank in Single/early double digits) to get it
- For foreign posting, you need to pass the respective(country wise) language proficiency test
- A few vacancies and charm of foreign postings makes MEA the most fancy post in CGL Exam
- Unlike CSS, posting can be anywhere; from MEA, South Block, Delhi to Passport offices to Special Missions in Bangladesh to the Embassies in USA(as well as Uganda)
- Typical 5 days a week, 9 AM to 5.30 PM job
- Assistant get official passport (white color), but not the diplomat’s passport (red color). Still, the official passport is different from normal citizen’s passport(blue color)
- Requires very good communication and interpersonal skills to flourish and grow in MEA
- There are 162 Indian missions abroad where an Assistant can be asked to serve.
This is one of the most sought after Assistant posts In CGL exam, for the chance of getting international postings and serve in Indian missions abroad. However, the information available and being circulated is laden with errors. Through this post, we have tried to dispel some of the major myths and half-baked truths being circulated on various groups and forums:
What is Ministry of External Affairs?
MEA is a Govt. agency responsible for conduct of India’s relations with foreign nations. MEA is responsible for India’s representation in United Nations and MEA also advises other Ministries and State Govt. when the latter deals with foreign govt. or institutions (signing of MoUs etc)
- Joining formalities are almost same as that of any other Assistant in Ministry except for the fact that Assistant in MEA also has to undergo IB (Intelligence Bureau) verification along with police verification. After IB and Police clearance, joining letter is issued and you are asked to report at Jawahar Lal Nehru Bhawan, New Delhi (opp. National Museum).
- Unlike CSS, there is no immediate training on joining. However, before you get a foreign posting you have to compulsorily undergo 30 days training (spread over small modules) as well as foreign language test.
- Foreign language proficiency test is mandatory to get the foreign posting
- Training is hectic with a lot to learn in the brief period of time for effective working
|Training Course for IFS (B) – Non RG Grade||30 days|
|01||Passport & PRIDE||2 days|
|05||MEA Administration||2 days|
|06||MEA Establishment & Welfare Measures||2 days|
|07||Protocol & CNV||2 days|
|08||Personality Development & Know India||2 days|
|09||Office Procedure||2 days|
|10||Financial Procedure||2 days|
|11||Trade Promotion||2 days|
|14||IMAS – Theory/Practical||4 days|
Job of Assistant in MEA
- The main job of an assistant is to assist the IFS officers in their day to day work
- Assistants do the file work and noting, drafting and communication with the head office in India
- Planning and examination of documents to be signed between the nations
- Filing and other works related to various MoUs to be signed by ambassadors and ministers
- Coordinating between various offices of consulates as well from HQ at Home Nation
- Promoting friendly relations with the receiving state as also its people, including NRI/PIO
First Promotion from Assistant to Section Officer(SO) takes 4-5 yrs after clearing departmental exams, otherwise it may take 10-14 yrs on seniority basis. SO to Under Secretary (US) usually takes long time of 9-12 yrs based on vacancies. After US, the promotions are time based as with the IFS cadre. Most Assistants in MEA gets 3 career promotions and retires from Deputy Director level or at max Director Level.
Current strength of entire IFS cadre is 600 posts, so the chances of SO to US takes a lot of time as only a fraction of IFS cadre posts are filled by promotions as compared to direct recruitment via UPSC(8-12 IFS posts through UPSC each year).
Assistant starts from Grade-IV, progresses to Grade III and Grade II before being promoted to Grade I
Transfers and Postings
Assistant in MEA is not strictly a Delhi only job. On need basis, you can be posted to Regional Passport Offices, but usually there is shortage of staff in Delhi, so it happens only on requirement basis. You need to have really strong political approach to shift to Regional Passport Office on your own convenience (for home state posting etc.). For foreign posting, you have to choose 5-10 destinations from the list of 60 destinations provided to you by the ministry. However, it would be the ministry who would decide which place to allot to you. You can deny the allotted foreign destination but then such denials don’t go well with your seniors as it causes hassles in the effective functioning. Besides, what’s the point in joining MEA and then denying a foreign posting to live in India the entire life.
And yes, you get to live in a 5 star accommodation in case your stay arrangement by ministry gets delayed. All this at the expense of government.
Perks and Privileges
In India, all the perks are same as to that of any other Govt. servant in 4600 gp. The govt accommodation can be availed at MEA flats in Chanakyapuri and Dwarka. Since most MEA employees goes for a foreign posting every 3 years, the flats are not blocked/occupied for long. However, with every posting you need to shift your entire set up with you.
In foreign postings, you get the best facilities and amenities. You are entitled to get treated in the best hospital in that location, your children go to best American/British International Schools (having fee more that of your entire monthly salary in foreign posting). Fully furnished accommodation is provided which is better than the Govt accommodation provided to any Grp. A service (IAS/IPS/IRS) official in India. Previously, Assistant’s economy class air tickets used to be upgraded to 1st class free of cost. But, due to govt. austerity measures, now Assistant in MEA is allowed free travel by economy class to the foreign location. Also, an Assistant is allotted entire cargo container for goods, so you can take along your car and other requirements easily.
While posted in India, it would be the same as that of any 4600 gp employee posted in Delhi.
However, while posted abroad, you will get salary in dollars. But, don’t get too excited too soon, the foreign package would be just enough to live an average life there. The foreign salary is calculated on many parameters like cost of living, price index, currency exchange rate etc. There are no chances of under table money. A few foolish greedy guys tried to make some and here is what happened to them
- Promotions are slow after reaching SO. First, because only 8-15 Under Secretary are needed every year. Secondly, all the Stenographer cadre and Cypher cadre are merged with Assistant cadre for promotion(Reference 1)
- You have to work out of different work environments and usually face a lot of communication problems
- Many assistants (esp. their families) faces insecurities when posted in non-english speaking nation or when posted in hostile location. Look at the list of India’s Missions and see how many country names you know.(Reference 2) You would also be needed to know the foreign nation’s language in order to survive in daily life tasks.
- The Indian food esp spices, vegetables etc are a difficult things to procure, so be ready to change your eating habits(esp. for vegetarians)
- You social life reduces drastically; especially living far from friends and relatives. You miss marriages, birthdays etc of your near and dear ones
- You miss all the festivals (you cannot celebrate Holi in minus 8 degrees in Pennsylvania)
- You are under a lot of pressure from the seniors, since they are IFS officers from UPSC (the best brains in UPSC comes to IFS), they have a lot of pressure and tactics over you. Also, ministers can make you suffer if you don’t oblige to their orders.
- While you get all the facilities on foreign postings, the working condition way back in India are not appreciable. Here is an excerpt from a recent news article
- An assistant cannot accept and keep even the cheapest gift received by him on international posting, even the Foreign Minister have to return all the gifts to “Toshkhana” on return to India. (Refer - Image)
- The latest measure adopted by MEA is concerning for people looking for typical “relaxed” govt. job. MEA plans to recruit from Private and Academics sector thereby bringing in the private performance oriented, result oriented and over-burdened culture. With corporate players competing with you, you will have to be on your toes all the time.
Myth 1: Assistant in MEA gets the best medical facilities his family and best education for his child. Reality: The medical facilities and education facilities largely depends on the country an Assistant is posted in. You cannot get the Singapore’s hospital facility while being posted in Nigeria. Similarly, your child cannot get a chance at Harvard if you are posted in Pakistan. No doubt, you would get the best hospital access in whichever country you are, but don’t expect first world facilities while serving in a third world country.
Myth 2: Assistant MEA is the best job to earn hefty legalized (white) money.
Reality: It is true that Assistant, MEA gets paid higher salaries but only when posted on international missions. But at the same time, let’s look at the other side of coin, the higher salary comes to help you meet higher expenses and higher standard of living. So, if you like living in the same lifestyle that any middle class Indian do, you won’t be saving anything.
However, if you plan to live like a chindichor (measly), you may save a few dollars. But that defeats your purpose of going abroad to travel the world and explore new cultures. Remember, government jobs can never get you rich as a business man. But a government job can certainly provide you with a lot of perks, respect, liberties and peace of mind.
Though MEA, with its whims and fancies would attract every one of us in the first glance, there is a need for a reality check.
It looks very nice from outside the system to get foreign postings and visit various countries, discover new cultures and live in new places. But this only looks good for a few years, you won’t wish to relocate every three years of your life with the entire family. Alien locations, homesickness and foreign language trouble are bound to haunt most of us. In short, MEA post is not everyone’s cup of tea. Ask these two questions to yourself to find your answer:
- We all love going to Leh or Mussourie as a tourist. But can you imagine living at that place with their slow/limited life style for 3 continuous years with not much contact with family and friends. Is that your idea of living your life?
- We love visiting the scenic Kerala backwaters on a weekend tour. But think of learning the regional language and conversing n that on a daily basis for tasks for next 3 years. Can you do it?
If the answer to above two questions is Yes, then congratulations, MEA is your dream come true job. However, for lesser mortals like most of us, why try so hard when there is a shortcut available? The shortcut is to join CSS or any other ministry, thereby staying in Delhi and enjoying faster promotions (CSS vs MEA). And for that once in life time urge to work as a diplomat, go to MEA on deputation for 3 years period. MEA comes up with deputation notices every now and then. Also, you get chance to visit various Nations after becoming Under Secretary (for MoUs, Trainings, as a team alongwith Minister etc). So, make your job post preference wisely, because this is what will define the direction to next 30+ years of your life. All the best!