There is one fundamental freedom that those incarcerated miss the most. That is the freedom of movement. Going where they want, when they want to.
Wanting to travel and see the world is a pleasure. It is, however, an aspiration that many that are convicted felons worry they may not be able to enjoy. Many are unclear as to whether they can get the necessary clearance to cross certain borders.
Here we will discuss the question: can a felon travel to Europe? Europe is one of the most appealing destinations in the world. From culture to natural splendor, there is much to be seen and enjoyed.
Many Americans have roots in these countries. It is not uncommon for them to want to travel to Europe to reconnect with their family and heritage.
For some felons, travel may not be just about being a tourist or social interaction. There are many that need to travel for work, training, or business opportunities. Having a felony conviction makes it difficult to meet these needs.
Whatever the reason, most are aware that there is often some investigation when applying for a visa. For someone with a felony conviction, it takes just a little probing to discover the problem.
However, before we get to the problem of dealing with other governments, let us first address the challenges from our own.
According to Pew, there were 4.5 million people on probation or parole as of 2016 in the U.S. That is almost twice as many as are in prison.
Being on probation or parole means that you are still under the prison authority. While you are out in society, there are certain rules you must abide by.
Your probation or parole officer is the one to oversee your activity during this period. He/she will also be the person you will report to on your progress.
One of the common rules is no out of state travel. If it becomes necessary, you need to seek authorization from your PO.
A failure to report and get approval can be considered a violation. Consequently, you may end up back in prison.
During this period, traveling out of the country is nigh impossible. The state or federal authorities may have your passport revoked if they think you are a flight risk.
If you are on probation or parole, the best approach would be to wait it out. Complete your sentence and then you can start making overseas travel plans.
Another government issue has to be getting a passport. Besides probation and parole, a passport may be revoked if used to commit a crime.
Those that are convicted of drug trafficking offenses often have their passports revoked. Those that are convicted of acts of treason and sex-tourism also suffer the same fate.
Sadly, there is not much recourse if you are denied a passport by the government. You may make an appeal through the Department of State if there is cause.
The hearing would involve a meeting between the felon, his attorney, and a deputy assistant secretary for Passport Services. Witnesses deemed necessary may also be called by the department. There are however no guarantees.
Can a Felon Travel to Europe?
In response to the question: can a felon travel to Europe, the answer is yes. If you have completed the terms of your parole and are eligible to get a passport.
However, just as with trying to get decent housing and gainful employment, there are some challenges.
There are some countries where certain offenses are taken very seriously. They would not want to allow these offenders into the country. Public opinion and risk to the community are often the reasons for this.
Offenses such as sexual assault, pedophilia, and drug trafficking are the most common.
In cases where you must obtain a visa, there is a chance you may be queried on criminal records. You may be told to detail your criminal convictions, even if expunged.
This scenario may vary from country to country.
So you may be wondering if you should even bother with this travel. For some parts of Europe, you may be able to get by without the need of a visa.
Let’s look at when and how this will apply.
Requirements to Enter Europe
Firstly, you should know that there is such a region referred to as the Schengen Area within Europe. Overall, Europe is made up of 44 countries. 26 of these countries have joined arms to form the Schengen area.
Secondly, it is helpful to know that the member states of the Schengen area have abolished border control. Once you cross the external border at any of the countries, you enjoy unrestricted travel. There are no restrictions in movement within the external border of this zone.
Travelers can travel from country to country without having to get their passport stamped again. This is until when you are exiting.
Getting into the Schengen area is not difficult if you intend to stay less than 90 days. A less than 90-day stay does not require a visa.
As long as you can get past immigration at the initial stage, you should be free and clear. You need only make the trip with a valid passport.
Generally, criminal background checks are not carried out by most European countries when it is a short stay. Tourists from visa-free countries like the U.S. are rarely asked about convictions. However, being truthful is important, just in case.
However, if your stay is going to be longer you must apply for a visa. This should be done prior to even leaving the country. You apply through the embassy of the country you are visiting.
European nations are typically more relaxed than our neighbors to the north when it comes to felonies. Minor convictions are not much of a problem. More serious offenses like drug and human trafficking are.
As said, each country has its own policies when it comes to traveling felons. Besides the Schengen member states, there is likely one European nation you have an interest in.
Entry into the UK
The UK is not part of the Schengen Area. It is, however, one of the most visited regions in Europe. They prefer to govern their own borders.
A felon may still gain entry to the UK. This is made easier if the conviction is ‘spent’. This means more than 10 years have passed since felon served a jail term of more than 30 months.
The UK considers such felons to have been rehabilitated. If the felon has been re-arrested but served less than 6 months, the rehabilitation period can be reduced to just 5 years.
If the imprisonment is spent, you can likely get through immigration without much problem.
Just as with any other border crossings, it is important to be respectful when dealing with immigration officials. Your fate is in their hands so tread carefully.
Encouraging a Felon to Travel to Europe
Traveling is a great way to take a break from the stresses of life. When you are a felon, life becomes that much more complicated. When and if you can afford it, getting away can be a good way to relax and rejuvenate.
The excitement of new experiences and possibly connecting with old and new family and friends can be great.
As soon as you get your hands on a passport, make a trial run and aim for a less than 90-day stay.
It is however important for a felon to avoid getting in any trouble while abroad. Staying on the right side of the law will especially matter going forward.
The Schengen member nations are organizing information sharing on travelers that commit offenses. That means if you are arrested for drunkenness in Italy, you may not be able to gain entry through Switzerland on your next trip.
Many European destinations are amazing and awe-inspiring. A trip here can provide the right motivation to turn a life around.
If there is an opportunity for such travel, do encourage the person to grab it.
Getting away from it all may seem like escapism. For felons at great risk of recidivism, it can help save them from another trip back to prison.
The distraction and greater sense of freedom can help reset their minds. They can experience a sense of peace and be instilled with the desire to do better with their lives.
Whether the travel is for business or pleasure, going to Europe is often achievable for many felons. If you have had it on your mind and can afford it, do not hesitate. If still not sure, call the embassy concerned and get direction.
U.S. citizens traveling as tourists are amongst the most welcomed. Take advantage of this to see if you have the makings of a globe trotter.