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Carrying Several Passports? It's Not Just for Spies

New York Times
By Michael T. Luongo
January 19, 2009

Alessandro Pappalardo, an artist in New York, holds passports from Italy and Argentina and, last year, added an American one. Previously an executive with Aerolineas Argentinas, he said, "I used to go a lot to Brazil, and I would always decide what passport to show depending on what line was shorter."

Stefan Stefanov, a citizen of the United States and Bulgaria who works for FirstApex Group in Warsaw, said he decided which passport to use depending on where he was going. "Of course, I don't hide that I am a U.S. citizen," Mr. Stefanov said. "But I don't parade it either."

Dual passports are no longer the sole province of people who grew up in more than one country. Millions of American citizens potentially qualify for various reasons - ethnic heritage, religion, country of birth or where their spouse was born.

"The fact is people don't think about it until it is pointed out to them," said Jan Dvorak, president of Travisa, a passport services company in Washington. Some Americans, he said, "don't realize that they actually have dual nationality."

While there are no hard numbers, more Americans seem to be trying to qualify for additional passports. "Savvy travelers and business travelers want to make sure they have two passports based on nationality because there are certain advantages," Mr. Dvorak said.

Among those is the ability to work without restriction in various countries, particularly with passports from countries in the European Union. Also, Mr. Dvorak said, it is "a way of hiding where one has been," when traveling among countries with soured relations.

Christopher Davis, the chief executive of G3 Visas & Passports in Washington, said that his company regularly processes British passports. For clients who become dual nationals, he said, "there are distinct benefits to it, especially now that the E.U. has grown in size and scope, especially if you need to take an assignment there."

Mr. Davis said foreign passport applications can be complicated, particularly for Italy and France, at times requiring a long series of documents to "show the progression of the genealogy."

He also cautioned that for Americans, "it doesn't matter how many passports you have, you must enter and leave with a U.S. passport."

In addition, he recommended that anyone considering dual passports think first of the tax consequences and the potential for military service, though, he added, "you can get exemptions for all of this because you're a U.S. citizen."

Israel allows anyone of Jewish heritage to use what is called aliyah, or the Law of Return, to become a citizen, but the military draft can be an issue. Noam Greenberg, a press officer with the Israeli Consulate in New York, said that the maximum age for the draft is 28 for men and 22 for women, although married women are exempt at any age. Americans can apply for exemptions.

The draft was an issue for Abdullah Daglioglu, an actor whose stage name is Neil Malik Abdullah. Born in Austria to parents from Turkey, he has both nationalities, but avoided Turkey because, he said, "I would have to do the military." He lives in Germany and works on films throughout the European Union. "I can act in movies all over Europe," he said. "There's no visa necessary."

Mr. Daglioglu, who played one of the Sept. 11 terrorists, Ahmed al-Haznawi, in the British television movie "Hamburg Cell," said he used his Austrian passport for the United States visa that he needed for part of the filming in Florida.

On paper, there was "no background showing I am actually Turkish," Mr. Daglioglu said. "It's easier to travel with the Austrian passport because it is European, rather than the Turkish passport. Everybody makes a problem when your last name is Abdullah."

Ruth Yoffe also has dual passports. She started Reloop Designs, a company that hires handicapped people in Cambodia to weave colorful baskets from recycled plastic bags.

A citizen of the United States and New Zealand, she travels frequently throughout Southeast Asia. "For obvious safety reasons, I always try and travel and put my visas on my New Zealand passport," she said via e-mail. "On a plane, I don't want to be identified as an American if I have that choice, depending on where I am heading."

Visas are also cheaper for New Zealanders. "They assume anyone else from any other country can't be as rich" as Americans, Ms. Yoffe said.

Alex Thomas, the corporate manager of Travel Document Systems, a visa and passport services company in Washington, said that some of his clients are "uneasy traveling with a U.S. passport, and if they have an additional passport, they prefer to use it."

Mr. Thomas cited globalization and marriage to immigrants as reasons that more Americans are getting dual citizenship, but the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the recent economic collapse also came up as issues for some dual nationals.

Mr. Thomas said there are "four or five people a month who ask specifically what they need to do to get a passport" for another country. "Because of the way things are going in the world," he said, he expects that number to rise.

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