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I am trying to find out what US law says about foreign travelers flying between US territories and the "mainland." For example, flying from Guam to Hawaii or from Puerto Rico to Florida.

8 CFR 215.1(g) and (h):

(g) The term geographical part of the United States means:
(1) The continental United States,
(2) Alaska,
(3) Hawaii,
(4) Puerto Rico,
(5) The Virgin Islands,
(6) Guam,
(7) American Samoa,
(8) Swains Island, or
(9) The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (beginning November 28, 2009).

(h) The term depart from the United States means depart by land, water, or air:
(1) From the United States for any foreign place, or
(2) from one geographical part of the United States for a separate geographical part of the United States: Provided, That a trip or journey upon a public ferry, passenger vessel sailing coastwise on a fixed schedule, excursion vessel, or aircraft, having both termini in the continental United States or in any one of the other geographical parts of the United States and not touching any territory or waters under the jurisdiction or control of a foreign power, shall not be deemed a departure from the United States.

US Customs and Border Protection's page on the matter is terribly confusing and does not adequately address the case of someone who is neither a US citizen nor lawful permanent resident. However, it does seem to imply that a foreigner requires a passport to fly between territories and states:

Will travelers from U.S. territories need to present a passport to enter the United States?

U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR's) who travel directly between parts of the United States, which includes Guam, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Swains Island and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), without touching at a foreign port or place, are not required to present a valid U.S. Passport or U.S. Green Card.

However, it is recommended that travelers bring a government issued photo ID and copy of birth certificate.

It also is recommended that you carry proof of your LPR status at all times in the event you are asked to prove your status. This may be in the form of a green card or passport.

Hawaii is a U.S. state and therefore passport documentation requirements for U.S. citizens and LPR's do not apply.

Entry requirements for non-U.S. citizens are the same as for entering the United States from any foreign destination. Upon departure, a passport is required for all but U.S. citizens.

Questions about requirements for domestic travel should be directed to Transportation Security Administration (TSA). TSA can be reached at 1-866-289-9673.

This seems to imply that the rules are different for travel between (for example) Alaska and Hawaii than they are between Guam and Hawaii, even though there is no such distinction to be found in the regulation.

Furthermore, at 8 USC 1101(a)(38), the general definition of "United States" for the purpose of immigration law is given as

(38) The term “United States”, except as otherwise specifically herein provided, when used in a geographical sense, means the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands of the United States, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

It is therefore odd that the text makes a distinction between such travel and "domestic travel," when it seems that according to immigration law such travel is domestic travel.

Is there some other basis to be found in US law for a requirement that foreigners have a passport when flying directly between US territories or between a US territory and a US state? Is there some basis that justifies treating these flights differently from flights to or from Alaska or Hawaii?

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  • A simple solution: if international waters are considered partly "under the jurisdiction or control of a foreign power", which under international law, I think they are under everyone's mutual control, then those cases are considered to depart the US, and so foreigners need to provide their passports. Also, as a practical matter, when flying these days in the US, you need to be able to identify oneself; for nearly all foreigners the only acceptable credential they can obtain is a passport.
    – sharur
    Oct 11 '18 at 20:24
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    I'd be interested to know how the CBP official at the departing airport in (for example) Guam would even determine whether or not to ask you about your status. Are they allowed to do some sort of 'profiling'? I am neither a citizen nor LPR (yet), but I do have a US drivers license - and because I've recently renewed it (and still have the paper temporary) it doesn't have the 'limited term' notation at the top. Seems like I could (in theory) just flash that & say I'm LPR if asked ...
    – brhans
    Oct 11 '18 at 20:27
  • @brhans that seems rather foolhardy; what if they then ask for your green card? You'd be in for a world of trouble if they discovered that your claim to be an LPR was false.
    – phoog
    Oct 11 '18 at 20:34
  • Well - ok then - I'll take it one step further and say I'm a citizen (hypothetically of course) - just seems like this exit-check is somewhat arbitrary since there doesn't seem to be a reliable way for a CBP official to even determine whether or not to ask about my status.
    – brhans
    Oct 11 '18 at 20:48
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    @phoog, do you mean I should have written "certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt card" as stated in uscis.gov/ilink/docView/SLB/HTML/SLB/0-0-0-1/0-0-0-29/… or did you mean something else? Oct 12 '18 at 0:32
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I am trying to find out what US law says about foreign travelers flying between US territories and the "mainland." For example, flying from Guam to Hawaii or from Puerto Rico to Florida.

Your question contains everything needed to reach the correct answer.

Foreign travelers traveling between Guam and Hawaii, or Puerto Rico and Florida, need to present their passports, just as if they came to the destination directly from abroad.

In contrast, U.S. citizens and U.S. green card holders (i.e. lawful permanent residents) do not need to present passports to make these trips.

Foreign travelers traveling between U.S. states (e.g. California and Hawaii), however, do not need to present passports a second time for immigration purposes. As a practical matter, however, you need to present a qualifying government issued photo ID to board any commercial airplane flight depart from the U.S. to anywhere (even from New York to New Jersey), and usually foreign travelers use their passports for that purpose.

So, the lack of a need for a passport is only relevant in most cases for foreign travelers when traveling by sea or train or bus or taxi between U.S. states without leaving the Unites States (most notably for trips by ship from California, Oregon, Washington State, or Alaska to Hawaii, or trips by ship from Alaska to California, Oregon, Washington State or Hawaii, with no intermediate foreign stops).

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    "usually foreign travelers use their passports for that purpose": most foreign travelers who live in the US will use their US driver's licenses. But my real question was about the reason for the difference in the practical treatment of Alaska and Hawaii when there seems to be nothing in statute or regulation that justifies the difference. In other words, the first paragraph of the question, quoted here, is just background; the actual question appears in the last paragraph: what statute or regulation underlies the requirements reflected in the second and third paragraphs of this answer?
    – phoog
    Jul 12 '21 at 22:12
  • There is really no practical difference in the treatment of Hawaii or Alaska other than that arising from the fact that the vast majority of travel requires commercial air flights. I would not normally think of someone with a U.S. driver's license as a "foreign traveler", although people on visas other than green cards would be covered by that and might have a U.S. driver's license. I have no real doubt that a CBP publication cited is backed up by some statute or regulation, but haven't checked chapter and verse on it.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 12 '21 at 23:49
  • I mean the difference in treatment of Alaska and Hawaii as compared to the treatment of Puerto Rico, the USVI, etc. In the first case, foreigners are not required to have passports, but in the latter case, they are. There appears to be no basis for that difference in statute or regulation. What line of reasoning leads from the INA and title 8 of the CFR to the conclusion that foreigners traveling between the USVI or Puerto Rico and Florida or any other state must show a passport? Why doesn't that line of reasoning apply to Alaska or Hawaii?
    – phoog
    Jul 13 '21 at 15:06
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No, you won't need one (Covid passport, another story altogether....). I have traveled to both Mexico and Canada and have never been asked for my passport. I would be stunned to find that travel to a US territory would have different rules. However, a travel agent would know; one quick call will get you on track! Hope this helps!

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    This answer is incorrect. The rules have changed.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 12 '21 at 17:41
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ANSWER: YOU NEED A PASSPORT TO TRAVEL BETWEEN ANY OF THE 50 STATES AND ANY TERRITORY OR BETWEEN ANY TWO TERRITORIES

Reason is paragraph 5 from your second yellow block

"Will travelers from U.S. territories need to present a passport to enter the United States?

Entry requirements for non-U.S. citizens are the same as for entering the United States from any foreign destination. Upon departure, a passport is required for all but U.S. citizens."

"Provided, That a trip or journey upon a public ferry, passenger vessel sailing coastwise on a fixed schedule, excursion vessel, or aircraft, having both termini in the continental United States or in any one of the other geographical parts of the United States and not touching any territory or waters under the jurisdiction or control of a foreign power, shall not be deemed a departure from the United States."

I'd rather not analyze more, but if you ask me to I will.

DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A LICENSED ATTORNEY. YOU ARE NOT MY CLIENT. THIS IS A LAY OPINION FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY

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