22

The United Nations and some other, related international organisations such as the IAEA, issue their employees with blue Laissez-Passer travel documents which, in some circumstances, can be used in place of a national passport.

This wikipedia article gives some details, but notes that many border officials do not understand the document, and some countries don't recognise it or require travellers to carry a national passport as well.

So what is it for? Is it for proving UN affiliation within a country? Without any particular diplomatic privileges is this useful outside of war zones, refugee camps, uranium-enrichment plants, etc?

  • 9
    I would argue that one of the purposes of such a document is as an expression of quasi-sovereignty for the United Nations, as issuance of passports is an activity normally undertaken by sovereign nations. That's only of some practical value to a traveler, but it is of importance for the UN to express its privileges and immunities independent of any individual nation. – Zach Lipton Nov 1 '17 at 10:10
  • 2
    @ZachLipton It could be a lot of practical value to a traveller from the Middle East visiting the UN headquarters in NYC, especially in light of recent executive policy changes. – Calchas Nov 1 '17 at 16:25
  • 5
    @Calchas True, though I believe every version of those orders exempted those traveling on behalf of the UN and other international organizations already. – Zach Lipton Nov 1 '17 at 18:00
  • 4
    @Calchas the US doesn't generally place visas in lassez-passer documents, perhaps except for stateless employees of the UN. Diplomatic status derives from accreditation to the State department, and anyone with such accreditation travels with an A, G, or C-2 visa, all of which are explicitly exempted from "recent executive policy changes" regardless of whether they are placed in a national passport or another document. My wife generally does not show her LP when entering the US. – phoog Nov 1 '17 at 19:33
  • 2
    @Fattie It has nothing to do specifically with the UN. Most countries, including the US, use Official Passports for non-diplomatic official government travel. The UN and EU versions just have a weird French name because they aren't a country. Practically, they serve the same purpose. – user71659 Nov 1 '17 at 23:16
10

As alluded to in Calchas's answer, the usefulness of a UN laissez-passer (LP) depends entirely on the country to which its holder is traveling. From (indirect) personal experience, I can report that practice varies widely.

In the United States, at least, diplomatic and semi-diplomatic privileges and immunities are granted based on a persons accreditation to the Department of State and on their rank and function in the UN system, not on the possession of any particular document. See, for example, 22 USC 288d, Privileges, exemptions, and immunities of officers, employees, and their families; waiver.

As a consequence, for example, someone who holds a UNLP but travels to the US for personal reasons using a B visa or the visa waiver program derives no privileges or immunities from the LP. Other countries, of course, may choose to grant privileges or immunities to similarly situated people.

As noted by Zach Lipton in a comment, the LP may be useful for UN employees traveling to a country that would not otherwise grant admission because of the employee's nationality. This does not apply in the US, however, because the US has developed other mechanisms to deal with this issue, among which is the C-2 visa.

Is it for proving UN affiliation within a country?

It is certainly one way to do that, although UN employees generally also have an employee identification card.

Without any particular diplomatic privileges is this useful outside of war zones, refugee camps, uranium-enrichment plants, etc?

In many countries, the document does come with diplomatic privileges, but even in those in which it does not, it does serve in some cases to qualify the bearer for a visa exemption. To restate its purpose generally, it serves as a travel document that identifies the bearer as a UN officer or employee. What any country chooses to do with that information is up to that country.

  • amazing real-world knowledge !!! – Fattie Nov 1 '17 at 22:25
21

It is used as a travel document in lieu of a passport. It is issued under Article VII of the Convention of the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations. The Article obliges UN members to recognise the laissez passer as a valid travel document.

Some countries would require a visa for certain passport holders but most countries allow visa free entry for UN laissez-passer holders. Those that do require a visa for laissez-passer holders usually make it much easier for UN staff than people from certain countries (as required by Article VII).

There is also a “red” UN laissez-passer which confers on the holder the same privileges attaching to an accredited diplomat.

I am sure that some people find it easier to use their own national passport from time to time, that is in the nature of any special privilege.

  • 9
    I would imagine, though I have no citation for this or personal knowledge, that use of the Laissez-Passer could be helpful in avoiding problems in some situations where the country of citizenship of the holder would be an issue. If the UN hires an employee who needs to travel to a country, but would be barred by a visa ban or lack of recognition between countries (say, an Israeli citizen sent to Bangladesh), the use of the Laissez-Passer could be a way for everyone to avoid a diplomatic incident. – Zach Lipton Nov 1 '17 at 10:22
  • 2
    As noted in the question, some countries prefer the national passport, even for those who also hold a laissez-passer. Also, neither the red nor the blue LP grants any privilege to the holder; the privilege is granted by the country to which the holder is traveling. The US, for example, grants privileges and immunities to UN employees and officers based on their rank and function, not based on any document they hold. – phoog Nov 1 '17 at 19:28
2

The United Nations Laissez-Passer (UNLP) is a travel document which designates the holder as a UN or UN Specialized Agency official who is traveling abroad to carry out official duties. Furthermore, it is an official travel document recognized by every UN Member State. The fact that some migration officers might not be aware of its existence does not in any manner diminish its value or validity. Although it is worth noting that traveling with the personal one in addition to the LP is advised, as a personal experience after visiting +30 countries, I have never encountered a single migration officer who rejected the UNLP.

Under the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, all UN officials enjoy privileges and immunities as long as they are serving with a UN agency, and the UNLP is one of those. Blue UNLP are analogs to a Service/Official passport, while Red ones are analogs to a Diplomatic passport, therefore, the level of privileges are different for each type of passport.

In short, the purpose for the UNLP is to designate the holder as an official of the UN System it does not express a country-specific affiliation. It does have privileges and immunities (as described above), it also provides time-saving benefits as any UNLP grants you the right to use diplomatic lines at the migration area of any UN Member State and when requiring a visa (for UN related affairs) these will be provided free of charge and in an expedited manner.

When not traveling, the UN issued ID Card is the document that designates its holder as a UN official with the privileges and immunities that it entails and according to the Convention.

  • The US, at least, gives free visas and diplomatic lane access to UN staff traveling on official business regardless of whether they have a UNLP. – phoog Jan 25 '18 at 7:47

protected by phoog Jun 8 '18 at 14:50

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.