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Just when I thought passports were boring

Updated: Apr 14, 2021

As I mentioned before, there are many different sides to consular work. I explained in a previous post that I work mostly on non-immigrant visas right now. But we also have an American Citizen Services section in Berlin where I work sometimes. Part of that work consists of issuing passports.

Passports are not the most spectacular part of citizens services, and most passports are not issued overseas. Only a tiny percentage of Americans apply for passports overseas and just for them, we have offices in every country where we accept applications and personally print them in case of emergency.

At first, I thought it would be boring to deal with travel documents. But that was before I came across my first case that wasn’t just someone coming in to renew an expired passport.

As it turns out, passport applications can be real puzzles. When the information you receive from applicants doesn’t seem to make sense, you have to find a smart way to figure out what’s going on. You can’t just issue someone a U.S. passport because they seem honest. European posts like Berlin aren’t known for major fraud, but we certainly see our share of surprising and difficult-to-determine cases.

For example, adults will show up asking for a passport even though they’ve never had one before, or even went to the US before. How do you figure out if this person is entitled to citizenship, like, for real? We have our ways, of course, but it’s not always straightforward. Sometimes we do have to go as far as looking at childen’s pictures to piece a story together.

Sometimes we have to check if marriages are really valid, establish if blood relations between parents and babies really exist, or find out why a child looks different from the parents or other siblings. One applicant didn’t have a passport because a parent “tore it up” upon finding out the person was moving to the US in three days, which we had to verify somehow.

In most cases things check out and everyone is happy in the end. But there are also cases where people keep showing up for a passport without a shred of evidence they have U.S. citizenship. We see a lot of different people and not everyone is telling the truth. Any time you start interviewing someone you may suddenly realize that all is NOT normal and some serious questioning is going to be required.

Other interesting aspects include seeing many newborn babies and actually glueing passports. And I’m sure I’ve experienced only a small fraction of the variety of cases the section deals with!


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