Irish J1 (summer visa) students in the US are facing a reported security crackdown at airport emigration after many turn to doctoring their passports in order to purchase alcohol.
The students have turned to laminating their passports as a way of attempting to bypass the minimum US drinking age of 21.
The minimum age for purchasing alcohol in the US is three years older than the equivalent Irish age - and one of the oldest in the world - at 21. The limited number of other countries in the world imposing a minimum drinking age of 21 include Kazhakstan, Cameroon, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, however the US limit is considered among the oldest in the developed Western World for purchasing alcohol-containing drinks.
Nation students' union the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) issued a press release yesterday condemning the students' action, and urging students not to try doctor their most important document in order to purchase drink.
"USI is advising any student, who may have attached laminates to their passports, or modified their travel documents in any way, to take immediate action to obtain a replacement passport," the Union's two-term president, Gary Redmond, said yesterday.
The Union said that several students had been arrested while trying to travel on the altered documents. A modified passport, if discovered, looses its validity for travel, and a replacement is necessary. Altering a passport is also a criminal offence both in Ireland and the US.
The US State Department told Irish media yesterday that those found guilty of tampering with their passports faced a minimum jail sentence of 10 years, while in Ireland the offence carries a five year prison sentence, a €10,000 fine or both.
The Department of Foreign Affairs also confirmed that it was actively offering consular assistance to a number of students forced to come clean about tampering with the documents.
In fairness, the move is one of almost unbridled stupidity on the part of the students involved.
Without condoning it in any way, there are ways plenty of illicit ways for those desperate enough to obtain under-age alcohol in the US to do so without resorting to tampering with their passports.
The most commonly resorted to method in Ireland is altering provisional driving licences, which can be relatively easily altered with minimum equipment; the potentially criminal sanctions attached to altering passports are widely known, and as a result few are reckless enough to go down that route.
In the US, an impressive black market for forging State ID cards thrives for young Statesiders looking to obtain drink.
Practically undetectable replicas of State ID cards can often be acquired for under $50, with the ID sharks often developing impressive skills in producing the replicas.
Some offer the service as a sort of after-hours nixer; few, in big cities, enter the forgery underworld in full time business as small-time criminals, and operate with an efficiency more akin to an organized business than a back-garage style operation.
Given the States' tight airport security checks though, it beggers belief that the students involved thought that adding a lamination to their passports was a good way of getting underage drink, or that it would not be detected on their way back home.
Irish summer-going students are also traditionally very careful about not incurring any sort of criminal record while on holidays in the US, as such can dent or wipe out any hopes they may harbour of pursuing further education there, or even obtaining a Green Card.
As the State Department statement said with an implied message of 'did you really think you'd get away with this!?': "the presence of the laminate is easily detectable by border control officers and those used to inspect travel documents."
Anyone stupid enough to have tried it almost deserves to be caught.