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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Passport and Visa Fraud: A Quick Course


Passport Fraud

U.S. Passport

Diplomatic Security (DS) has investigated passport and visa crime since 1916. Through a dedicated cadre of special agents, analysts, and other support staff, and continued coordination with Federal and international law enforcement agencies, DS helps protect the integrity of the U.S. passport and visa – undoubtedly the most valuable travel and identity documents in the world.

What is a U.S. passport? What is a U.S. passport card?

A passport book is a travel document issued by the U.S. Government to a U.S. citizen for travel to and from the United States. U.S. passports are recognized as legal proof of a person's identity and U.S. citizenship. In Fiscal Year 2010, 13.6 million passports were issued to U.S. citizens. More than one-third of the U.S. citizen population holds a valid passport.

A passport card is a wallet-size travel document that can only be used to re-enter the United States at land border-crossings and sea ports-of-entry from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. The card provides a less expensive, smaller, and convenient alternative to the passport book for those who travel frequently to these destinations by land or by sea. The State Department began issuing the passport card in July 2008. As of June 2011, the Department has issued more than 4.5 million passport cards.

 How is passport fraud committed?

  • Assuming the identity of a deceased person to apply for passports
  • Using phony support documents, such as fake birth certificates
  • Using stolen and altered passports
  • Circumventing the two-parent signature rule for children

Offenders commit passport crime to:

  • conceal their identity, such as fugitives and terrorists
  • illegally enter the United States or avoid deportation
  • commit financial crimes and bank fraud
  • facilitate other criminal activity such as drug trafficking or alien smuggling

 The following statutes fall within DS’s investigative authority for passport fraud:

  • 18 USC 1541 Issuance Without Authority
  • 18 USC 1542 False Statement in Application and Use of Passport
  • 18 USC 1543 Forgery or False Use of Passport
  • 18 USC 1544 Misuse of Passport
  • 18 USC 1546 Fraud and Misuse of Visas, Permits, and Other Documents
  • 18 USC 371 Conspiracy to Commit Offense or to Defraud the United States
  • 18 USC 911 False Claim to Citizenship
  • 18 USC 1028 Fraud and Related Activity in Connection with Identification Documents and Information
  • 18 USC 1028A Aggravated Identity Theft

In Fiscal Year 2012, DS investigated over 3,900 new cases of passport and visa fraud, and made more than 440 arrests.

Visa Fraud

Machine Readable VisaWhat is a visa?

The U.S. visa is a document, obtained at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate, granting a foreign traveler permission to apply for admission into the United States at a port of entry. It is not a guarantee of entry into the United States. Department of Homeland Security inspectors determine if, and for how long, an alien is admitted.

There are two types of visas:

  • Immigrant visa: For people who intend to live permanently in the United States, as provided by the Immigration and Nationality Act.
  • Nonimmigrant visa: For people who wish to visit the United States temporarily--for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work, or study.

What are typical types of visa fraud?

  • Presenting false documents to apply for a visa
  • Concealing facts that would disqualify one from getting a visa, like a criminal history in the alien’s home country
  • The sale, trafficking, or transfer of otherwise legitimate visas
  • Misrepresenting the reasons for requiring a visa
  • Counterfeiting, forgery, or alteration of a visa

Criminals commit visa fraud to:

  • smuggle aliens into the United States
  • flee from prosecution
  • facilitate drug trafficking and terrorist operations
  • assist with other crimes, like remaining in the United States illegally

Visa fraud and related statutes include:

  • 18 USC 1546 Fraud and Misuse of Visas, Permits, and Other Documents
  • 18 USC 1001 False Statements or Entries Generally
  • 18 USC 1028 Fraud in Connection with Identification Documents
  • 18 USC 201 Bribery of Public Officials
  • 18 USC 371 Conspiracy to Commit Offense or to Defraud the United States


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