Joshua was petitioned by his U.S. citizen spouse, Jessica, in 2005. After ten years, their marriage ended in divorce. There are three children born from the relationship and all of them are minors. The court ordered that Joshua pay child support in the amount of $1,500 per month.
For one year, Joshua paid his child support regularly. However, Joshua was terminated from his employment and found it difficult to pay for his child support obligations. In 2016, his unpaid child support reached $35,000.
Meanwhile, depressed and unemployed, Joshua decided to return to the Philippines.
He applied for a U.S. passport but was denied. While he was issued a U.S. passport in the past, he was told a renewal of his U.S. passport was problematic because he owed child support. Desperate to depart for the Philippines, Joshua, upon advice of his friends, applied for dual citizenship and was issued a Philippine passport. He traveled back to the Philippines and stayed with his long time sweetheart for more than three months. When he was about to return to the United States, he found himself with only a Philippine passport. He was told that a mere Philippine passport without a U.S. visa was an insufficient travel document to go back to the States.
Joshua applied again for a U.S. passport. Will he be issued one by the State Department despite his child support arrearages?
The U.S. Department of State has a Passport Denial Program that is designed to help states enforce delinquent child support obligations. Parents certified by a state as having arrearages exceeding $2,500 are submitted by the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) to the Department of State, which denies them U.S. passports upon application or the use of a passport service.
This program was established as a penalty for deadbeats who owe court-ordered child support. It also serves as an incentive for passport applicants who wish to travel to first settle their child support arrearages before taking a trip outside the United States.
Reporting Child Support Arrearages
The restriction on the issuance of a passport applies only if there is previous court intervention in the child support matter and individuals representing the child are utilizing state support collections services. If there is no court order of child support, enforcement through this program is not available.
The rule restricting issuance of passports to persons who owe child support, like Joshua, is not absolute. There is an exception. Joshua could secure a passport limited in purpose only, that is, only to be issued and used for his “direct return” to the United States. He could not use this passport for any other purpose.
The regulations that restrict issuance of passports to deadbeats withstood constitutional challenges because there is governmental interest in ensuring that those who do not pay child support obligations remain within the jurisdictional authority of the United States. The exception allowing Joshua a limited passport back to the U.S. ensures that he would be within the jurisdiction of the courts to face, own up to, and hopefully comply with his child support obligations.
(Atty. Lourdes Santos Tancinco, Esq. is an immigration attorney with the Tancinco Law Offices, a San Francisco CA based law firm. She may be reached at 1 888 930 0808, firstname.lastname@example.org, or facebook.com/tancincolaw.)