June 2, 2023


Just Do Travel

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: Clearance Holders and Marriage Tourism

It seems that the Lonely Hearts Club has quite a few members, many of whom have a thing for foreign women. I see it all the time in my law practice, but you don’t have to be a security clearance attorney to figure this out. Hop on Google and in a few minutes, you too can be signed up for a tour to Russia, Ukraine, the Philippines, or a number of other destinations specifically to meet single women in the market for an American husband. But what’s the impact of marriage tourism on your clearance?

Marriage Tourism is Like Speed Dating on Steroids

The situation brings to mind Mitt Romney’s infamous 2012 “binders full of women” faux pas. For many observers, the idea of meeting a wife in this fashion seems bizarrely unnatural and impersonal – like ordering food off a restaurant menu. For others, including the numerous American men who avail themselves of these opportunities each year, the process is akin to speed dating on steroids. Proponents point to the statistical success of arranged marriages as proof positive that there is no uniform formula for a successful union; that marriage is largely what the spouses make of it. Opponents raise fears of human trafficking and point out that many of the women involved make little effort to hide their desire for American citizenship.

Marriage Tourism and Clearance Considerations

Wherever you stand on the issue, the fact remains that there is nothing inherently illegal about marriage tourism as long as both parties to a union intend to live together as spouses. There is no hard data available on the number of clearance holders who partake in these trips, but anecdotal evidence suggests that at least a handful of cleared U.S. government employees and contractors each year embark upon a journey abroad to find wedded bliss. Some of these folks call my office in advance seeking legal advice; namely, the odds that their efforts will negatively impact their security clearance. Those who do receive the same advice:

  • Submit a proposed travel itinerary, including your reason for travel, to agency security officials well in advance of booking any non-refundable tickets. The itinerary (and approval) is required for all clearance-holders per Security Executive Agent Directive (SEAD)-3; but the reason for travel is equally important under the circumstances. Most federal agencies will deny the request on security grounds, but occasionally – and depending in large part on the destination – some agencies may green-light it, buying the clearance-holder some degree of protection.
  • Be sure to conduct substantial due diligence on the tour provider and be able to document your efforts for security officials. Anything that looks even remotely like sex tourism, human trafficking, visa fraud (i.e. sham marriages), or other illicit activity is a total non-starter.
  • Ideally, wait to do this until retirement or your desire for marital companionship outweighs your interest in retaining your security clearance.

Don’t Forget about the In-Laws

Fundamentally, a legitimate marriage to a foreign national met overseas can pass muster with personnel security officials under the right circumstances. But those circumstances are narrow and the risk for a calamitous misstep is high. Much will ride on the identity of the foreign country at issue – the former Soviet republics are particularly popular destinations for these tours but fraught with risk – and the extent of familial, financial, and other ties the new spouse leaves behind in their home country that could be leveraged by hostile actors against the clearance holder through the spouse. For example, a new bride who leaves behind parents, siblings, and other family members in Mother Russia is likely going to be viewed as a major foreign influence risk on the clearance holder. An only-child spouse from the Philippines with deceased or elderly parents? Maybe not so much.

Like everything in the security field, each situation is supposed to be judged on its own merits – including marriage tourism. But if you’re looking for love abroad, keep in mind that unless you’re Kim Kardashian, you can’t hit rewind on a marriage that turns out to be a mistake. Think this one through carefully before you pull the proverbial trigger.



This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation