2017 saw significant changes to the rules surrounding security clearance holder foreign passport possession and use. Since then, we’ve discussed those changes here on ClearanceJobs and security managers across both government and industry have provided policy updates to their workforce.

Nonetheless, significant confusion remains about what is or is not permissible when it comes to foreign passports – as evidenced by the frequent questions on this topic we receive from our clients. Accordingly, here is the quick and dirty on what all clearance holders should know.

Holding a Foreign Passport and a Security Clearance are No Longer Mutually Exclusive

Prior to June 2017, most government employees and contractors were faced with a stark choice: destroy (or potentially surrender for safekeeping) a foreign passport or be denied a security clearance. This created serious problems for many dual-citizens whose birth countries refused them entry – for example, to visit elderly parents – unless on the birth country’s passport. It was also directly contrary to policy and practice within the U.S. intelligence community, which allowed its contractors to retain foreign passports for fear of unwittingly making them intelligence targets by forcing them to draw needless attention to themselves while traveling.

As of June 8, 2017, the old “no foreign passports” policy for non-IC agencies is now a relic of the past. Any clearance holder whose employer had custody of a foreign passport should have since received that passport back by instruction of the Defense Security Service (now the Defense Security and Counter-Intelligence Agency).

Applying for Foreign Citizenship Will Still Raise Eyebrows

Despite this policy change, clearance holders should not make the mistake of believing it’s open-season to apply for dual citizenship. Applying for dual citizenship, and its accompanying foreign passport, is still viewed as a potential security issue.  There is a significant difference between individuals who hold dual citizenship by birth or operation of law and those who actively seek it out on their own volition. The latter is viewed as potentially exhibiting a foreign preference that is incompatible with U.S. national security interests.

Clearance-holders Must Use Their U.S. Passport – and Only Their U.S. Passport – when crossing Any U.S. Border

With this new policy change comes the unambiguous caveat that clearance-holders who utilize a foreign passport to enter or exit the United States or any of its territories or possessions have committed a security infraction. A foreign passport is permissible for entering or exiting foreign countries – theoretically even third-party countries that the clearance-holder could enter or exit on either passport – but it can never be presented at a U.S. border crossing. This is a relatively new issue, but we advise all clearance holders to presume that means they should only enter their U.S. passport information when booking travel to/from the United States with any commercial carrier, such as an airline or cruise ship.

There are Good Reasons for Having a Foreign Passport…and Not-So-Good Reasons

Ultimately, the now-outdated policy about foreign passports wasn’t so much about the passport itself, but rather what that passport ostensibly symbolized. Even now that possession and use of a foreign passport is permissible, using that passport for purposes besides travel necessity or convenience – for example, to vote in foreign elections, run for office in a foreign country, or protect financial interests abroad – may be viewed as demonstrative of foreign preference, and thus a security risk. Clearance holders should be careful to limit the use of foreign passports to only those activities which cannot reasonably be construed as exercising the rights and privileges of foreign citizenship.


This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 

Related News

Attorney Sean M. Bigley represents clients worldwide in security clearance denials, revocations, and the security clearance application process. He is a former investigator for the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (then-U.S. Office of Personnel Management). For more information, please visit www.bigleylaw.com. Readers will also find a low-cost, self-help option for obtaining copies of their security clearance background investigations and DISS/Scattered Castles records at www.bigleylaw.com/security-clearance-investigation-records.