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Special Passports and Their Uses

A passport is an official document issued by a government that identifies the citizenship, nationality and personal details of the holder. 

It is a small booklet that typically contains the bearer’s name, date of birth, place of birth, photograph, contact details and expiry date. It allows the owner to travel around the world and access consular services while in a foreign country.

Most of us, except those with dual citizenship, will have one passport. Standard passports issued by most governments are blue in color. 

According to the International Civil Aviation Organization passports are size 3 travel documents that follow specific rules for their construction, layout and contents. The booklet must have at least eight pages apart from a data page. 

A passport also requires a minimum of two blank pages for international travel. The destination country may not let the passenger enter if there is no space for the visa to be stamped into the passport. 

Governments across the world issue some nonstandard passports to a few citizens. They come in different colors and offer special privileges to their owners. Read on to understand different kinds of passports. 

Special Passport  

A special passport is an official document issued to officials like senators and military officers who may not be strictly diplomats, but hold some diplomatic responsibilities 

It gives the holders certain privileges and exemptions during international travel on official work and also, during their stay overseas for a particular period of time. In some cases, personnel working with the governments on a contract basis are also eligible for special passports. 

Special issuance passports are valid for a maximum of five years in most countries. They are not valid after the stipulated time period or for personal travel. 

The color of special passports differs from country to country. While Indian official passports are white in color, Turkey has green special passports. 

Diplomatic Passport

Diplomatic passports are international identity documents issued to diplomats, officials of foreign services or persons with similar status who are stationed in a foreign country on official government duty. Family members of diplomats can also apply for diplomatic passports.  

For example, all US ambassadors to foreign countries and officers in the US consulates and embassies across the world are eligible for diplomatic passports.  

What are the benefits? Diplomatic passport holders can enjoy visa-free entry to most countries.

They are free of tax liability on income from outside of the host country. They can also cross international borders bypassing typical customs checks and immigration questions. So, their immigration process is much easier and faster than the regular passport holder. 

The bearers can go through airports without waiting for their belongings or without getting their identification approved.

They can also enjoy diplomatic immunity while stationed overseas. This basically protects them from lawsuits and prosecution to an extent. This protection is at the discretion of the host country and is based on international laws.  

What does it look like? It varies depending on the country of issue. However, most diplomatic passports differ in color from regular or official passports of the country. 

For example, the color of India’s official passport is white while its diplomatic passport is in red. Whereas the US diplomatic and official passports are black and maroon respectively.  The color difference helps immigration officials identify diplomats and accord them their special privileges.   

Also, these passports will have ‘Diplomatic Passport’ written on the cover. 

Service Passport

Service passports are issued for a limited time for third party contractors who undertake government work in a foreign country. 

It is indicated that holders of services passports have a relationship with the government that generally does not justify a diplomatic or official passport or the privileges associated with it. It is issued when their travel purpose cannot be accomplished using a regular blue passport. 

The US service passport is grey in color and has a validity of five years from the date of issuance. 

United Nations laissez-passer (UNLP or LP)

The United Nations laissez-passer (UNLP or LP) is a diplomatic travel document issued by the UN under the provisions of Article VII of the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations. 

Laissez-passer means ‘let pass’. The document is valid in the UN offices in New York City and Geneva.

The UNLP is issued to the diplomats and staff of UN organizations such as the International Labour Organization, World Health Organization and World Tourism Organization. 

What are the benefits? As per the provisions of Article VII of the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, the holders of UNLP will be “accorded diplomatic privileges and immunities and diplomatic facilities when traveling on the business of the United Nations."

The UNLP is a valid travel document which can be used like a passport. However, most countries accept it only as a complementary document. The diplomats holding the UNLP may be asked to show their national passports during the immigration process. 

It is printed both in English and French, the official languages of the UN. 

The document comes in blue and red. The blue one has the legal status of a service passport, while the red laissez-passer is issued to high-ranking UN diplomats. 

Passport Issued by the Vatican or Holy Sea

To begin with, the Vatican and the Holy Sea are not the same. The Holy Sea is the universal government of the Catholic Church and Vatican City is a sovereign city state within Rome.  

The Vatican City passport is issued to those who work for the Vatican office, cardinals who live inside the city state and Rome, and diplomats of the Holy Sea. It is not granted based on the place of birth or is inherited. Vatican citizenship is lost when the term of services is over. 

Vatican issues different types of passports:

  • Diplomatic passport for Vatican nationals with a validity of 10 years.
  • Service passport for non-citizens working for the Holy Sea. This is valid for five years.
  • Passports for temporary services with a validity of two years.
  • Vatican City State passport for Vatican citizens with a validity of five years.

Vaccine Passports

Like other passports, vaccine passports are not issued by a nation as proof of citizenship. It is a medical document that says that the passenger is vaccinated against certain communicable diseases. 

For years, people traveling to certain countries have been asked to show a medical passport called the yellow card. It is issued by the WHO to prove that they have taken vaccines against diseases like cholera and yellow fever.  

However, vaccine passports became a prominent travel document post the outbreak of COVID-19. 

The European Union strongly supports a digital green passport to prove that travelers are vaccinated against COVID to visit all the 27 member states. 

Like the EU, most countries now demand a vaccine passport or certificate to enter their borders. 

The validity of vaccine certificates depends on the destination country’s policies. It varies from three months to one year. Recently the EU reduced the validity period of vaccine certificates from one year to nine months. 

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