To accompany his recent paper “Urgent Need for U.S. Citizens Residing Outside the U.S. to be Able to Obtain a Taxpayer Identification Number (‘TIN’) Other Than a Social Security Number” Patrick Martin has made several blog posts about the difficulties faced by U.S. citizen teenagers and adults attempting to obtain Social Security numbers from outside of the United States. I highly recommend the paper & posts to all readers here.
Mr. Martin also states that it is impossible for U.S. citizens to travel to the U.S. without an SSN. On its face, this looks like a reasonable conclusion from the warnings on the U.S. passport application form. State Department officials themselves do not seem to agree; in 2011, they told the Government Accountability Office that they did not believe then-current statutes allowed them to deny passports to SSN-less applicants. Nevertheless, the statutorily-authorised fine imposed in some cases for failure to provide a TIN — enacted to punish the diaspora — may deter U.S. passport applicants who lack SSNs, and a large proportion of such applicants are likely to be U.S. citizens in other countries.
A new bill may make the situation even worse, though it wouldn’t prevent travel to the U.S., “just” departure afterwards. Under Orrin Hatch’s “customs bill” (S. 1269/H.R. 644) which recently passed the Senate, not just people with significant unpaid taxes or tax-form-related fines, but also people who do not provide their SSNs, would be unable to obtain general-validity U.S. passports, only “one-way passports” limited for travel to the United States. This proposal, and others like it, directly resulted from State’s 2011 comments to the GAO. The SSN-related part of the proposal is new, and did not appear in the previous iterations of the proposal in the 2012 highway bill nor veterans’ jobs bills. It is not clear whether it would deny U.S. passports to people who never had SSNs in the first place. I will explore this in a separate post later on.