State Department wants to make it harder to get a passport


If you don’t want it to get even harder for a U.S. citizen to get a passport — now required for travel even to Canada or Mexico — you only have until Monday to let the State Department know.

The U.S. Department of State is proposing a new Biographical Questionnaire for some passport applicants: The proposed new  Form DS-5513 asks for all addresses since birth; lifetime employment history including employers’ and supervisors names, addresses, and telephone numbers; personal details of all siblings; mother’s address one year prior to your birth; any “religious ceremony” around the time of birth; and a variety of other information.  According to the proposed form, “failure to provide the information requested may result in … the denial of your U.S. passport application.”

The State Department estimated that the average respondent would be able to compile all this information in just 45 minutes, which is obviously absurd given the amount of research that is likely to be required to even attempt to complete the form.

It seems likely that only some, not all, applicants will be required to fill out the new questionnaire, but no criteria have been made public for determining who will be subjected to these additional new written interrogatories.  So if the passport examiner wants to deny your application, all they will have to do is give you the impossible new form to complete.

It’s not clear from the supporting statementstatement of legal authorities, or regulatory assessment submitted by the State Department to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) why declining to discuss one’s siblings or to provide the phone number of your first supervisor when you were a teenager working at McDonalds would be a legitimate basis for denial of a passport to a U.S. citizen.

There’s more information in the Federal Register notice (also available here as a PDF) and from the Identity Project.

You can submit comments to the State Dept. online at until midnight Eastern time on Monday, April 25, 2011.  Go here, then click the “Submit a Comment” button at the upper right of the page. If that link doesn’t work for you, it’s probably a problem with the javascript used on the website. There are alternate instructions for submitting comments by email here.

(Note that the proposed form itself was not published in the Federal Register. The Identity Project was eventually provided with a copy after requesting it from the Department of State, and posted it here.)

Here are the comments (PDF) being submitted by the Consumer Travel Alliance and other consumer, privacy, and civil liberties groups and individuals, if you would like to use it for ideas for comments of your own. (They’re also available  in OpenOffice format for easier editing.)

Extra points to the person who gives the best answer in the comments to the question on the proposed form, “Please describe the circumstances of your birth including the names (as well as address and phone number, if available) of persons present or in attendance at your birth.”

[Update: More than 3000 people and several organizations submitted comments opposing the proposal in the final days before the deadline. Those comments raise further concerns: It appears from some of the comments that the State Department is already using a version of this form, without the required OMB approval.]

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  • Cyndia Marcontell Sonier

    Getting ready to go on a cruise to Mexico, dont even need a passport. Taking one just in case. First we go to post office and lady who signs off on the passport application isnt authorized because she didnt take her test for the year. So everybodys application comes back denied. That lady sent us to another post office. Had to go through process all over.Then my mom who is 70 never been out of the US gets denied. They want all her work history and supervisors, addresses, marriages, siblings. I dont understand people get in to this country easy and she cant even go on a trip…….

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  • Connie

    My fiancé just applied for a US passport. He was born and raised in the USA and has never been outside the USA in his entire 57 years of life. When he sent in his application (which he did in person) he provided them with a birth certificate and a state-issued ID – which the Department of State website said was required. They wrote to him three weeks after receiving the application stating that the birth certificate and ID card were not sufficient to identify him. He now has to provide AT LEAST FIVE more documents to “assist them in identifying who he is”!!!! These documents have to be OVER five years old! They want marriage certificates from a marriage which ended over ten years ago. They want the birth certificates of his two adult (married) children. They want his medical records. They want a copy of his social security card. He recently renewed his driving licence and they want a copy of that too. If the Department of State is so hard up for investigators who can successfully identify their own citizens, I think they need to start coming down harder on the organisations who issue birth certificates and ID cards and driving licences, instead of coming down on the ordinary citizens! Every dealing I have ever had with any government department in the USA has, honestly, been like dealing with a 3rd world communist country – its like some awful novel by Solzhenitsyn. Unbelievable.

  • Annie Kile

    Do you have any information as to why my application to renew my lost passport was denied unless I provided an ADDITIONAL FIVE picture IDs less than 5 years old? I provided all documentation requested on the original application. I do not have five picture IDs less than 5 years old and feel my ability to travel has been unduly compromised.

  • Charles Leocha
  • LotusFlower

    This form looks very similar to the one I helped my husband complete when he was applying for his permanent green card. I assumed that they asked for that level of detail to ascertain whether or not he had ever visited or stayed in a “suspicious” country or had engaged in any other “suspicous” behavior that would be grounds for denial.

    A reasonable person would expect that this biographical form would only be issued to passport seekers who are perhaps living outside of the country at the time of application, or were not born in a hospital and therefore do not have a typical birth certificate. However, it is worrying to me that the State Dept is not setting policies or guidelines as to WHO should have to complete this form.

    Also we should keep in mind that while the passport is clearly used for travel in and out of the country, it is also used as confirmation of U.S. citizenship. So a passport denial is not just limiting a person from traveling, it is also essentially a statement that you do not have enough evidence to prove you are really a U.S. citizen.

  • Will

    When did your passport arrive?

  • Will

    When did your passport arrive??

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