Do They Run Background Checks for Passports?

A trip abroad is one of the most rewarding experiences that people can give themselves. New and old travelers alike are enriched by their exposure to new cultures, ideas, and ways of living. Many jobs also ask their employees to travel abroad for business, research, or conferences with other professionals in their industry. The ability and freedom to visit countries outside of the United States opens a literal world of possibilities.

A valid and current passport is required for international travel. Passports, issued by the federal government, require applicants to a photograph, along with documents. This allows the government to verify an individual’s identity, and to examine their background to determine whether they should be allowed to travel abroad.

Felons may wonder if their criminal record presents an obstacle to international travel. The federal government’s background check will turn up any and all prior convictions. Those with felonies on their record are granted fewer rights after being released from prison, including restrictions on their right to vote, or carry a firearm.

In other cases, however, background checks are used as part of a larger picture in the process creating a profile for an individual. Felony convictions do not automatically disqualify someone from obtaining a passport and traveling abroad.

This piece will discuss the process of passport application and issuance, how it may differ for felons, and the unique circumstances some felons may encounter.

How Passports Work

Passports are documents that are recognized by nearly all world governments as proof of an individual’s citizenship. This is a security measure that allows foreign governments to track all entrants to the country, and to verify their place of origin. They may be issued as cards or booklets. It does not guarantee that an individual has the right to travel where they please, only that their attempt to do so is legal, and cannot be prosecuted.

Foreign governments may have their own restrictions on who they allow into their countries. Some, such as North Korea or Iran, will be hostile to American citizens attempting to enter their country. Other countries may take issue with travelers due to political or economic circumstances.

How To Apply For A Passport

The United States Department of State manages passports for all American citizens. The State Department requires that all applicants provide the following:

  • Passport application provided by the state department website
  • Evidence of US citizenship (see below)
  • Valid photo ID
  • Quality headshot photo that conforms to the specified standards

Once the applicant has all of these materials, they need to go to a State Department-approved Passport Service Locations. These can also be located on the State Department website, but they include post offices, libraries, and other municipal, state, or federal government offices.

Note that evidence of citizenship includes such documents as birth certificates or birth abstracts, an official letter of no record if no birth certificate was issued, census records, doctor/hospital records, or even baptismal certificates.

If the applicant was born outside of the United States, an American passport can still be obtained. The Department of State requests the following documents:

  • Foreign birth certificate
  • Evidence of your parents’ US citizenship
  • Statement that details all places of residence, both within the US and in other countries

For those who have US citizenship either through naturalization or adoption, the requirements become even more specific. Foreign birth certificates, green cards, adoption decrees, citizenship evidence of your parents, or custody documentation may be requested, depending on your circumstances. For any applicant, it stands to reason that they have all papers ready when beginning the passport application process.

Apply For A Passport With A Felony

Fortunately for felons, the process for applying for and being issued a passport is more or less the same as for any other citizens. Be aware, however, that certain felonies will prohibit an applicant from being granted a passport. The primary offense that will automatically disqualify an applicant is using a US passport in an act of international drug trafficking. That passport will be suspended upon conviction, and no subsequent passport may be issued so long as the conviction stays on the individual’s record.

The State Department also has the authority to revoke or deny a passport to an individual convicted of inter-state drug trafficking.

There are additional conditions that will disqualify applicants from receiving a passport. The State Department will not approve passports for those with $2,500 or more in owed child support. This list is managed by the US Department of Health and Human Services. Applicants must resolve any issues with this department first. They will then send an updated status along to the Department of State.

If an applicant has outstanding federal loans, they also may be denied a passport to travel internationally. Finally, if there is a court order against leaving the country, or the applicant is on parole or probation, their application will not be approved. The loan must be paid back to the US government, or put in good standing, in order for the passport to be issued.

Passport applicants may have questions about new rules and regulations surrounding the Real ID that are currently being rolled out. As of October 2020, a Real ID will be required for domestic travel. Since a valid passport is legal proof of citizenship, domestic travelers can use their passport in place of a Real ID. The Real ID does not take the place of a passport, however, when traveling internationally.

Passport Limitations

Remember, passports do not grant automatic entry to all countries, nor do they entitle the passport-holder to unrestricted travel. They do legally grant the right for citizens to exit or enter the United States for most purposes. This includes felons, making this one of the basic freedoms that are not automatically removed from felons upon conviction.

Drug trafficking felonies will prohibit applicants from being granted a passport, as will delinquent child support payments of $2,500 or more, or outstanding federal loans. Those with drug trafficking convictions under unique or sympathetic circumstances may be able to have their records expunged, and their right to travel restored.

If you are a convicted felon interested in travelling abroad for any reason, odds are good that you will be able to do so. Keep in mind that the wait time for a passport application to be processed and issued is up to eight weeks. For those who need their passport more quickly, the government offers expedited service for a $60 charge. The total fees for passport applications is $145, and $205 for those who wish to have the process expedited.

Travel abroad can be both personally and professionally rewarding, and if you are ambitious to do so, gather your documents, visit the State Department website, and apply as soon as you can.

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