can a felon get a passport

Can a Felon Get a Passport

I regularly receive email and am asked whether a felon can get a passport. In my opinion, it is a human right to travel and any form of restriction on that impinges one’s liberty and personal freedom.

I regularly receive email and am asked Can a Felon Get a Passport. In my opinion, it is a human right to travel and any form of restriction on that impinges one’s liberty and personal freedom. However, it has been getting increasingly difficult for those with felony records to travel freely in a world which is dominated by digital background checks but there remains some avenues for individuals with a blemish on their records to regain their rights as human beings.

Now let me state firstly, I don’t condone crimes and it is up to each individual country to set their own community standards. Having said that, Western Nations have started moving down the path of giving out convictions like it is candy. In particular, the U.S. has more felons in their citizens then any other country on earth and it has nothing to do with a criminal predilection.

Subsequently, I regularly receive questions on whether minor crimes can impact the ability to receive a passport and obtain a visa. The reality is that it’s complicated and depends on each person’s specific circumstances. Let’s start by considering the case of a U.S. felon attempting to leave the country.


Can a Felon Get a Passport
Having a Felony Isn’t a Total Bar to Travel

The first hurdle that a felon would need to jump is the eligibility criteria for issuance of a U.S. passport. In most cases, citizenship is the primary qualification that you will require to be granted a travel document (passport) and this means that in most cases a Felon will be able to get a passport with some exemptions.

Your first port of call in the process is normally completing an application form (DS-11 for a new application or DS-82 for a renewal). The forms don’t ask about any form of criminal history, but they do make it clear that the State Department will cross reference this information with other agencies in assessing your application.

Does a Felony Bar You Automatically

Thankfully, there are very few crimes that will automatically bar you from obtaining a passport and the primary one is, obviously, international drug trafficking. Additionally, any for of terrorism or national security issues may also cause a decline of your application. Misdemeanor drug crime is normally not a problem, but I have seen cases where passport applications have been declined based on intelligence accessed by the State Department.

Additionally, if you are currently an inmate or on any form of probation/parole/release on license or have pending charges against you, you are likely to receive an immediate decline of your application. A flag is typically placed against your passport file when any of these circumstances apply to you and the decline is automatic.

Child Support and Taxes

Unsurprisingly, the U.S government takes a very dim view of any infringements related to the greenback and the economy. Subsequently, if you have unpaid child support you could find yourself at the very real risk of being denied a passport. Anyone owing over $2,500 is ineligible to receive a passport and this is a hard and fast rule.

The IRS can also block you leaving the country if you owe them more than $50,000 and, in fact, can apply to have your existing passport cancelled. This can be a real problem if you are overseas, and the U.S. government effectively cancels your passport. If you approach your local embassy, you will find they will only issue you an emergency travel document for travel back to the continental United States. Once arrived, expect to be met by the IRS who will want their pound of flesh.

Travel and Visa’s and Can a Felon Get a Passport

The real problem for a felon is obtaining a visa to any countries you wish to travel or reside in. The reality is that in today’s connected world it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid such issues. It is important to note that even if you choose not to disclose such a felony record that it can be attached to your passport file, or even the Interpol list, and may pop up when you arrive at a country that has advanced passenger processing procedures.

In addition, if you are travelling to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, UK, and Singapore then expect it to be disclosed as these countries share immigration via the five eyes arrangement. That is why most felons choose to travel and/or relocate to non-western countries.

This issue is amplified when applying for either residency or citizenship via investment as countries typically do quite a deep dive on the individual concerned. The reality is that they will be asking for, and checking, with your home country as to your criminal history. Minor infringements may be explained away but anything involving drugs or serious offences is likely to be met with an immediate decline.

However, not all is lost for a Felon as there are potential avenues that you can look at to obtain secondary citizenship or residency. Some of the programs that may be available to you are:

Citizenship via Descent


Fast-Track Naturalization

Ultimately, a second citizenship is a great idea as a backup plan and is especially important if you are a felon in your home country. However, they take an in-depth review of your specific circumstances and a look at what options are your best.

Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or need any assistance in this regard.

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