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Nearly all sex offenders can still get a passport. However, sex offenders who committed child sex crimes will have a unique identifier placed on their passports. This identifier states that the person is a sex offender. Sex offenders covered by this requirement will have their normal passports revoked and replaced with one with the identifier. The passport will still allow for international travel, however.
Can registered sex offenders get a U.S. passport?
Yes, most registered sex offenders can get a U.S. passport. Only sex offenders who have been convicted for a crime of sex tourism can be denied a passport, and only then for a certain length of time. However, people who have been convicted for a sex crime involving a minor will have their passport marked with a warning on it.
When it comes to passports, sex offenders will fall into 1 of 3 groups:
those who can get a U.S. passport or passport card with no restrictions,
those who cannot get a U.S. passport, and
those who can get a U.S. passport, but only one with a unique identifier on it.
The general rule is that sex offenders can get a U.S. passport or passport card. This includes those who currently have registration requirements on a sex offender registry.
The only sex offenders who can be denied issuance of a passport are those who:
were convicted of a crime of sex tourism, and
used their passport or crossed an international border in the commission of the offense.1
Sex tourism crimes are the following federal offenses:
transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, also known as child sex trafficking,
travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct,
engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places, and
However, these sex offenders cannot be denied a passport forever. Their ineligibility only lasts for a specific time period. That time period begins when the person is convicted for a crime of sex tourism. It ends on the later of the following:
the date when the person is released from imprisonment for the offense, or
the end of the period of parole or other supervised release.3
If the sex offender already had a passport during this covered time period, it is subject to revocation by the Secretary of State.4
Finally, there are sex offenders who can only get a U.S. passport with a unique identifier on it.5 These are people who have been convicted for a sex offense and required to register as a sex offender for an offense against a minor.6
These offenses can include the following California sex crimes:
Because the identifier is an endorsement, it cannot be printed on a passport card. This means that convicted child sex offenders have to buy a full passport book from the Department of State.
Many people with covered child sex crimes have passports that do not have the identifier on it. These unmarked passports can be revoked.7 The holder will then have to apply for, and receive, a new passport before conducting any international travel.
Will child sex offenders be refused entry into another country?
Not necessarily. Even though registered child sex offenders will have the unique identifier on their passport, that does not mean that the destination country will bar them from entry. Even those that do bar entry may do so because the traveler is a felon, not because the prior conviction was for a child sex crime.
Each country has its own rulesof entry for immigrants and tourists. Most countries only need to see a U.S. passport. Only a few also require a visa. Of those that require a visa, not all will do a criminal background check as a part of the application process. This means that many countries will be unaware of an incoming U.S. traveler’s past sex crime.
However, the presence of the unique identifier on a child sex offender’s passport may lead to an increase in refusals. This is especially likely in countries that have problems with child exploitation.
If a traveler is denied entry into the destination country, the airline that brought them there will have to bring them back.
Do sex offenders have any other limitations for international travel?
Yes, people with current sex offender registry requirements have to notify law enforcement of their intent to travel out of the country.
Proposed regulations by the Department of Justice would require that notice to happen at least 21 days before departure. The following information would have to get reported by the traveler:
the means and purpose of the trip abroad,
airline and flight numbers,
the date and place of departure from the U.S.,
each country to be visited,
dates and places of arrival or return to the U.S., and
contact information while abroad.8
Sex offenders have to make this report to their local registry. The registry would then forward the information to the U.S. Marshal’s Office.
Knowingly failing to make this report is a violation of federal law. Convictions carry up to 10 years in prison.9
Sex offenders who want to make sure they comply with the law should consider talking to a criminal defense attorney.
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.