Passports in the Twenty-First Century

13 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2009 Last revised: 1 Apr 2015

Date Written: February 19, 2012


Passports are examined only occasionally in legal literature, such as by Professor Reale in 1931 and by Professor Jaffe in 1956. It is time once again to conduct an examination.

During the latter part of the nineteenth century, official hindrance of international travel was at its ebb. With the advent of World War I, passports were required. There was some relaxation of passport requirements after that war, but they reemerged with the advent of World War II. Passport requirements remained after that war ended. Termination of the Cold War did not cause a reduction of passport requirements.

Not solely in consequence of the Islamic War Against the West, the "passport question" (Professor Reale's phrase) and the "passport problem" (Professor Jaffe's phrase) are still with us.

In an ideal world, the only criteria for issuance of a passport and for retention of an issued passport would be identity and nationality. That is, an applicant for a passport would have to prove only who he is and his political relationship with the issuing country in order to qualify for a passport. A person who holds a passport would only have to not lose his nationality in order to retain his passport.

Reality, in the twenty-first century, is otherwise. Countries perceive passports as having the "real purpose[s]" (Professor Reale's phrase) of travel control and social control. Even in relatively-free countries, passport issuance is deniable not only for inability to prove identity or for inability to prove nationality, and passport retention is terminable not only for loss of nationality. Grounds for denial or termination include a default on a monetary obligation to an issuing government, a failure to pay child support, being the subject of an arrest warrant, being a minor about whom there is a custody dispute, engaging in activities contrary to national security or foreign policy, and being a convicted football hooligan.

There will not be abolition of passports, as Professor Reale favored. Passports will be instruments of social control, as Professor Jaffe favored. Despite reality, people with obligations of permanent allegiance to a government will continue to be denominated "citizens." There will be few freemen; most people will be serfs or villeins. A freeman will obtain a passport effortlessly. A serf or villein who wants a passport will just have to keep his nose clean.

See also: "Shortcomings of U.S. Passport-Application Forms (2013–2016)" (2014). URL:

Keywords: State Department, travel control, United States, United States passport

JEL Classification: K33, K40

Suggested Citation

Krueger, Stephen, Passports in the Twenty-First Century (February 19, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Stephen Krueger (Contact Author)

Independent ( email )

No Address Available

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