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Visa and Passport Program

OVERVIEW

The Department of Commerce (DOC) Passport/Visa Handbook has established policies and procedures for processing passports and visa applications when performing official travel on behalf of the Department. Travel guidance adheres to the guidelines established by the Department of State (DoS), the Federal Travel Regulation (FTR), and DOC internal guidance.

This Handbook provides an overview of passport and visa procedures in the following areas:

  • Official/Diplomatic U.S. Government passports;
  • The Country issued visa endorsements;
  • Whom to contact when requesting a country clearance; and
  • Miscellaneous administrative requirements for obtaining official passports

GENERAL RULES

All DOC travelers who are U.S. citizens who travel to foreign locations in an official capacity must obtain an official passport before the start of any travel. Travelers are also required to obtain a visa endorsement in their official passport when applicable that allows entry into foreign countries. As a result, a request for temporary duty (TDY) overseas must be approved, and a copy of the travel order authorizing travel must be included when requesting a visa.

DOC travelers are required to contact their Travel Point of Contact (TPOC) to coordinate requests for official passports, diplomatic passports, visa endorsements, and all country clearance requests. Bureaus that do not have a TPOC can contact the Travel Management Division to coordinate those requests with the exception of the country clearance request. The traveler or Bureau designee must contact DoS to obtain the country clearance.

Official passports are valid for official travel abroad only. This is in effect while the traveler is in an official travel status. For any official travel, which includes personal travel, the traveler must possess both a valid official and personal passport.

The DoS policy issues official passports to travelers and their dependents traveling abroad in their official capacity on behalf of the DOC.

INDIVIDUALS INELIGIBLE TO RECEIVE U.S. OFFICIAL PASSPORTS

Effective October 1, 1997, any individual certified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to the Secretary of State as being in arrears on child support payments in excess of $2,500 will be ineligible to receive a U.S. official passport. This provision was enacted by Congress as part of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Action of 1996 (Public Law 104-193).Once notified by the DoS of their status, they must resolve the issue with the State HHS office (i.e., his or her State Child Enforcement Office, not county office).The DoS will not have any information regarding the details of an individual's situation, nor the exact amount owed. The State HHS office will notify the DoS when the traveler is no longer in arrears. At that time, the traveler's passport application may be processed.

Travelers who are approved for temporary duty (TDY) assignments to a foreign country requiring a Passport/Visa must apply for the passport and/or visa at least 30 days before the intended departure or travel date.

Travelers who are approved for a temporary change of station (TCS) assignments to a foreign country requiring a Passport/Visa must apply for the passport and/or visa at least 60 days before the intended departure or travel date.

The following provides exceptions to the required use of an official or diplomatic passport while on official travel.

Contractors or volunteers are NOT authorized official (no-fee) passports. They must obtain a tourist (regular-fee) passport and pay the required fees. They must also obtain any necessary visa requirements directly through the embassy of that foreign country. Additionally, the individual is required to submit a country clearance form for submission to the DoS.

DOC travelers who are not U.S. citizens are not authorized to be issued any U.S. passports. Those travelers must use their passport issued from the foreign country where they hold citizenship for all official travel. In order to obtain a State Department letter for an Embassy, assistance will be provided.

Travelers (Invitational, NIST Fellows) who are not federal employees. Exceptions to NIST Fellows are employees who can demonstrate that they are indeed federal employees. Those employees will be required to submit an SF-50 reflecting their federal status.

Travelers must ensure that their official passports have more than six (6) months validity after the projected departure date from a foreign country. If the passport has less than six (6) months validity at the time of entry into the country, the traveler must renew the official passport before beginning official travel.

CUSTODIAN OF OFFICIAL/DIPLOMATIC PASSPORTS.

The Travel Management Division (TMD) or Bureau equivalent shall be the custodian of all official passports issued to DOC travelers and their immediate family members who accompany them on TDY travel to foreign locations.

The TMD or Bureau equivalent is held accountable for safeguarding official passports while travelers or immediate family members are not in an official travel status.

Travelers and their immediate family members must return official passports to the TMD Travel Office or Bureau equivalent within five (5) days of the end of any official travel to a foreign location.

Failure or refusal to return the official passport as required by the custodian will result in the immediate contact to the DoS requesting that necessary steps be taken to obtain the official passport. The DoS may seek the assistance of the U.S. Marshals Service, if necessary.

DOC PASSPORT ACCEPTANCE AGENT

An individual who has been trained and certified by the Special Issuance Agency (SIA) as one authorized to accept passport applications. This person is trained to apply procedures and practices for the following responsibilities:

(1) Certifying the identity of each applicant. Certifying that the Passport Acceptance Agent has personally witnessed the applicant signing his or her application and that the applicant has:

  • Personally appeared;
  • Presented proper identification, as documented on the application;
  • Submitted photographs that are a true likeness; and
  • Taken the oath administered by the Passport Acceptance Agent.

(2) Safeguarding passport application information under the Privacy Laws.

AUTHORIZING OFFICIAL

An individual who has a signature on file with the SIA, has the authority to request a passport on behalf of DOC.

LETTER OF AUTHORIZATION

The Special Issuance Agency (SIA) requires a Letter of Authorization (LOA) when requesting passports on behalf of the Department. The LOA is a template provided by the SIA which contains pertinent information about the traveler and visiting country. The LOA also requires the signature of the Approving Official who has the responsibility of verifying that the applicant is a direct-hire civil service employee and requires the passport for authorized official travel outside of the United States.

In some instances, travelers may require an expedited passport issued. In those cases, the LOA must be modified to request that the passport be expedited. The subject line in the memorandum should include the word "Expedited," and the body of the memorandum should consist of a statement "justifying the need for expediting" with a brief statement supporting the request.

OFFICIAL INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL

DOC travelers will submit the following forms and information to the TMD or the Bureau Passport Office when requesting an official passport:

Evidence of approval of foreign travel (Signed LOA to the SIA with a valid signature);

The appropriate DoS passport application form;

Additional documentation required to supplement the application;

When applying for a passport for a temporary change of station (TCS) assignment, any additional requirements to support the request; and

If applicable, any immediate family members accompanying the travelers to TCS must also provide appropriate evidence of approval.

SPECIAL PASSPORT REQUIREMENTS FOR CHILDREN (IN CONJUNCTION WITH TCS):

In accordance with Public Law 106-119 and 22 C.F.R. 51.27, in order to submit an application for a child under age 14, either parents or the child's legal guardian(s) must appear and present the following:

  • Evidence of the child's U.S. citizenship,
  • Evidence of the child's relationship to the parents/guardians, and

Parental identification

If only one parent appears, one of the following must be submitted:

  • Statement of Consent: Issuance of a Passport to a Minor under Age 16: DS Form 3053;
  • Primary evidence of sole authority to apply; or
  • A written statement (made under penalty of perjury) explaining the second parent's unavailability.

Pursuant to 22 C.F.R. 51.27, each minor child applying for a passport must appear in person, unless the personal appearance of the minor is specifically waived by a senior passport specialist at the issuing passport agency.

NO-FEE PASSPORT

No-fee passports are issued to persons traveling abroad in an official capacity when passports are required.DOC-sponsored dependents are required to have no-fee passports without regard to age or destination abroad.

No-fee passport holders may not use the passport when leaving the U.S. for personal travel. Holders of Diplomatic or Official Passports are forbidden to use their passports for incidental travel. For bearers of diplomatic and official passports, a tourist (regular fee) passport must be obtained for incidental travel. A person may possess a valid regular fee tourist passport and a valid no-fee passport simultaneously. However, a person may not possess two no-fee passports simultaneously, except where the SIA has approved the exceptions.

DOC employees traveling with an official/diplomatic passport who have travel authority to any country of assignment and anticipate travel to surrounding countries for personal leave should either obtain a tourist passport or possess credible citizenship evidence (i.e., birth certificate, naturalization certificate, report of birth abroad, expired U.S. passport).

No-fee passports may be used as long as the position or status for which they were issued is maintained. Upon termination of such a position or status, the Passport Acceptance Agent must return the no-fee passports to the SIA within seven (7) calendar days after the passport has expired or after the employee has separated from the Department. SIA typically destroys the passports; however, they may be canceled and returned for souvenir purposes upon the traveler's request.

DIPLOMATIC PASSPORTS

The SIA is the final determining authority for issuance of diplomatic passports. Diplomatic passports with the proper justification can only be issued by the SIA in Washington. Diplomatic passports may require additional processing time.

Diplomatic passports for TDY assignments are issued based on the assignment or the high-level status held by the traveler ex: Secretary of Commerce. They are not issued based on the grade of the traveler. If the DOC traveler is issued a diplomatic passport, each dependent will typically receive a diplomatic passport.

Foreign countries may have additional visa requirements specific to diplomatic passport holders which may not apply to official passport holders.DOC travelers should check with the Embassy, TMD staff, or the Foreign Commercial Services Office to determine embassy requirements.

OFFICIAL PASSPORTS

The Travel Management Division (TMD) requires that all applicants and holders of passports/visas, along with their supervisors, ensure that documentation is submitted promptly to the TMD when travel is anticipated. Prompt notification and timely submission of all passport documents are critical in effectively managing the process.

The TMD will not be responsible for passport or visa submissions for those applications submitted directly to the SIA or Embassy.

STATE DEPARTMENT PASSPORT FORMS TO BE USED

Form DS-11

If the employee never held a passport (official or personal), or if the last passport issued to the employee was before the age of 16, they are to complete the online version of Form DS-11.Upon completion, the form must be printed on single-sided paper. The traveler must NOT SIGN THE APPLICATION. The signature must be witnessed by a Passport Acceptance Agent.

The following documentation must be submitted to the TMD or bureau equivalent:

Application for a U.S. Passport or Registration, Form DS-11.This application must be signed before and executed by a Passport Acceptance Agent employed by the Department of Commerce, or a local Clerk of the Court, or authorized postal employee;

  • Two "2x2" passport pictures (front-facing, white or off-white background) taken within the last six months;
  • Birth certificate (must be original with official seal or a certified copy), naturalization certificate, or other approved proof of citizenship;
  • The applicant's driver's license or other picture identification document issued by a Federal, State, or local government.

Once the application is executed, the Passport Acceptance Agent must put the application, photographs, and other supporting documentation into a sealed envelope with the name of the traveler written on the outside. The envelope must not be opened, or the seal broken in any way.

All passport applications executed within the TMD will be sealed and sent to the SIA upon completion of the process.

Any applications executed outside of the TMD must be delivered in a sealed envelope and must contain all required documentation. The TMD Passport Acceptance Agents cannot break the sealed envelope. Passport Acceptance Agents will not be able to answer questions regarding the contents of the envelopes.

Form DS-82

The DS Form-82 can be completed and signed in its entirety. Employees are not required to have it signed in the presence of a Passport Acceptance Agent.

The following documentation must be submitted to the TMD or bureau equivalent:

  • The passport currently in their possession. If the traveler has an official passport due for renewal, it should be submitted as identification.
  • If the traveler has a personal passport, it can be used as well. If the traveler is unwilling or unable to submit his/her passport due to personal travel, the Form DS-82 cannot be used. In such cases, the Form DS-11 must be completed instead.
  • Two "2x2" passport pictures (front-facing, light background) taken within the last six months; and
  • Certified documentation of a name change if applicable (certified copy of marriage certificate, divorce decree, etc.).

The following applies to all passport applications:

  • All applications submitted must be the originals, photocopies with not be accepted;
  • Downloaded forms must be clear and sharp. Applications that are blurred or illegible will not be accepted;
  • Applications must be printed in black print using white paper with full pages printed on one-side. The paper must be 8 by 11, with no holes or perforations, at least medium (20 lb.) weight with a matte surface. Thermal paper, dye-sublimation paper, special inkjet paper, and other shiny papers are not acceptable;
  • Photograph area on the printed application form is "2x2" in size to ensure that the passport photograph submitted can be correctly attached.

All supporting documentation provided with the official passport application will be returned upon issuance of the official passport by SIA.

Form DS-64

If the traveler's official passport is lost or stolen while in the U.S. prior to or immediately after travel, the traveler must complete a Form DS-64, Statement Regarding a Lost or Stolen Passport, and submit it to the TMD to be couriered to the SIA for processing. Upon completion of the Form DS-64, the traveler may reapply for a replacement passport.This process can be performed simultaneously.

Note: DoS regards the loss of a passport as a serious matter. Lost and stolen passports are often used for fraudulent purposes.DOC travelers are advised to notify the TMD, or if abroad, the nearest American Embassy or Consulate, in writing if a passport has been lost or stolen. If it was stolen, they should report the theft to the local police authority where the theft occurred.

After reporting an official passport as lost or stolen, the passport is found, travelers should not attempt to use it. Filing the Form DS-64 invalidates the passport, and it cannot be used for travel. The information provided on the Form DS-64 is placed into the DoS Consular Lost or Stolen Passport System. Anyone using a passport reported as lost or stolen on the Form DS-64 may be detained when presenting the passport to Customs or Immigration personnel. Should the traveler locate an official passport previously reported as lost or stolen, they must immediately submit it to the TMD who will return it to the SIA for disposal.

APPLICATION FOR REPLACEMENT OF A LOST OR STOLEN PASSPORT

If the applicant wishes to obtain another passport, he/she must execute a Form DS-11, Passport Application, present acceptable identification, evidence of citizenship, and two new photographs.

In addition, the applicant must submit a completed DS-64, Statement Regarding Lost or Stolen Passport, detailing what happened to the previous passport. Brief notations such as "lost," "stolen," or "burned" are not sufficient. The employee must answer each question in as much detail as possible.

DOC travelers are responsible for safeguarding their official passports while in their possession.

AMENDING OFFICIAL PASSPORT FOR NAME CHANGE

The DS Form-82 must be used if the traveler is requesting a name change. You will need to complete Form DS-5504 within one year of the issuance date of your current valid passport. If the name change occurs after one year of the issuance of your most recent passport date, you must submit Form DS-82

The application must be supported with sufficient documentation, such as a certified court order, marriage certificate, or other satisfactory evidence to support a name change.

PASSPORT PHOTOS

To obtain photos, visit the DOC Security Office at HCHBSecurity@doc.gov or bureau equivalent to obtain passport and visa photographs. The Supervisor or Administrative Officer must send an e-mail to request an appointment. The Headquarters Security Office is located in room 1033 of the HCHB building. Bureaus may have their own protocol for obtaining photos, and travelers should be directed to the bureau POC to determine the requirements for obtaining photos.

All passport photos must meet the SIA standards as follows:

  • Two "2x2" passport pictures in size with a full face, front view with a plain white or off-white background;
  • Photos must be in color and printed on thin, photo-quality paper;
  • Photos must have been taken within the last six (6) months showing current appearance;
  • The photo must reflect the person wearing normal street attire.
  • Additionally, the following instructions must be taken into consideration when taken photographs.
  • Uniforms should not be worn in photographs except religious attire that is worn daily;
  • Hats or headgear should not be worn that obscure the hair or hairline;
  • If you normally wear prescription glasses, a hearing aid, a wig or similar articles, they should be worn for the picture;
  • Dark glasses or nonprescription glasses with tinted lenses are not acceptable unless you need them for medical reasons (a medical certificate may be required); and
  • Photographs retouched so that the traveler's appearance is changed are unacceptable, as are snapshots, vending machine prints, and magazine or full-length photographs.

VISA PHOTOS

Some embassies require visa or passport photos in size. Please check the specific embassy requirements to determine the size of photo needed for that country.

VIOLATION OF SOVEREIGNTY

Use of the tourist passport when traveling in an official capacity misrepresents the true purpose for which the traveler has entered the country. This situation can have serious and adverse effects on the U.S. reciprocal relations with foreign countries. When traveling in a personal capacity always use the tourist passport.

SECURITY CONCERNS WITH VISITING FOREIGN COUNTRIES

Should an emergency arise while on official travel in a foreign country, the official passport provides a higher level of support and greater protection by the U.S. Embassy located in the foreign country.

TRANSIT VISA

Travelers must notify the Passport Acceptance Agent or bureau equivalent of any in-transit stops anticipated while on official travel to a foreign location, no matter how short their duration. Certain countries will require a transit visa if the traveler is making an airplane connection in that country.

AMENDING VISAS

Granting a visa is solely at the discretion of the country being visited. Visas are often date-specific. If after applying for a visa, travel dates change, the traveler must notify the Passport Acceptance Agent or bureau equivalent immediately so that the visa application can be amended. Failure to do so may cause the traveler to be denied entry to the country upon arrival.

ELECTRONIC COUNTRY CLEARANCE PROCESS

The traveler or designated staff within the bureau's office will coordinate all country clearances for their travelers visiting a foreign location on official government business. DoS requires a country clearance for all official travel to foreign locations. The desk officer at DoS must request permission for the traveler to enter the country from the U.S. Ambassador assigned to that country. Travelers who are on official U.S. Government business may not enter the country until such clearance is requested and obtained.

Access the DoS website at https://myservices.servicenowservices.com/ to obtain a country clearance.

The DOC traveler or their office-designated person is responsible for contacting the appropriate desk officer at the DoS to amend the country clearance request per any changes to dates of travel.

MISCELLANEOUS ADMINISTRATIVE REQUIREMENTS FOR OFFICIAL PASSPORTS

SIA will only process applications for official passports that are submitted through the TMD, designated bureau office, or if the person bringing the passport application presents a letter from the TMD authorizing that person to submit a hand-carried application to SIA for processing the passport applications.

Travelers requesting the services of a Passport Acceptance Agent must contact either the TMD or bureau equivalent to ensure that an agent is on duty to provide hand-carry letters.

TRANSFER OF CUSTODY FOR OFFICIAL PASSPORT

Official passports are issued to the custody of the agency. When DOC employees transfer to other Federal agencies, the traveler will notify the TMD or bureau equivalent during the pre-exit clearance process. The passport will then be returned to the SIA explaining that the passport should be held until notice is received by the gaining agency requesting that the passport be transferred to their custody.

CANCEL AND DESTROY OR CANCEL AND RETURN

Before an official passport holder ceases employment with DOC, the passport holder must return the official passport to the TMD or bureau equivalent during the pre-exit clearance process. The passport will then be returned to the SIA to cancel and destroy or it may also be returned as a souvenir to the employee.