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Let's say I am a foreign student in the United States and I applied for another country's visa at their consulate in Washington DC. They are holding my passport for visa stamp and it takes 6-8 weeks to get back my passport.

I have an emergency at my home country and want to depart the US to go to my home country in Africa. Let's assume it's possible to have my passport from that foreign country's embassy in the US shipped internationally to my home country.

My question is will I be able to legally pass the TSA security checkpoint in order to be allowed to board the outbound flight to my home country?

We can assume I have a copy of my valid passport, copy of the visa that allowed me in to the US, current I-20 and valid SEVIS record, a US Driver's License (not REAL ID) and workplace/university ID badge.

Also, would the answer change for an F-1 student that is in school vs F-1 student in STEM OPT?

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    You haven't mentioned holding any kind of travel document. TSA isn't going to be the issue here, no airline will allow you to board an international flight without some kind of travel document.
    – MJeffryes
    Sep 20, 2022 at 13:13
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    You are missing that all airlines will do a documentation check before allowing you to board an international flight. In fact, you won't even be issued a boarding pass without presenting a passport or other travel document to the airline.
    – MJeffryes
    Sep 20, 2022 at 14:07
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    @MJeffryes: It is possible for a country to allow an airline to board someone for travel to the country without a valid passport (e.g. some allow expired passports). I don't know if any countries allow it with a copy of the passport, and even if the country allows it, the airline can still refuse. Without knowing the country, this is all too theoretical.
    – user102008
    Sep 20, 2022 at 15:19
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    @elegantcomplexity: Is it not possible to get an emergency passport of some sort from your home country's consulate in the US?
    – user102008
    Sep 20, 2022 at 15:20
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    @MJeffryes "No airline" is a strong statement. Pre-COVID it was pretty standard to travel in the Schengen area with a mobile boarding pass and never getting checked for any ID (I know because I forgot my passport at home on more than one ocassion, and it was never an issue). That said this only works because there is (usually) zero immigration checks on such flights.
    – xLeitix
    Sep 21, 2022 at 3:37

1 Answer 1

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TSA will not allow you to pass through security to the airport's departure gates unless you hold (either printed or on your phone) a valid boarding pass and a valid form of identification. ID here is usually a passport.

Because you do not have a passport or other travel document, the airline will not issue you a boarding pass. Even if you have a ticket on the flight and a copy of your passport, the airline will not issue a boarding pass.

Without a boarding pass, you will be stuck landside at the departure airport, unable to access the departure gate.

(It's possible you'd be able to pass TSA Security with an electronic boarding pass (sent to you by email or the airline's app) without a passport, but if so you'd then be stopped by the airline at the departure gate and required to display your passport. Without a passport suitable for the flight, you will be denied boarding.)

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    if the person made it through security and to the gate and was denied, how will they then return into the US without documentation (i.e. the REAL passport would be needed, wouldn't it?)
    – CGCampbell
    Sep 20, 2022 at 16:15
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    @CGCampbell There is no "international" area in general in the U.S.; they would not need to pass U.S. immigration if the passenger is denied boarding.
    – xngtng
    Sep 20, 2022 at 17:05
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    @JohnCuster the TSA officer at the security checkpoint doesn't do anything with your ID other than check that it's valid and authentic, that it belongs to you, and that the name matches the name on the boarding pass. Any other information TSA has they get from the airline.
    – phoog
    Sep 20, 2022 at 18:45
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    This. The problem isn't with leaving (the US has no outbound check whatsoever), but no carrier will take you to another country without being confident that you'll be allowed in. Sep 21, 2022 at 4:16
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    @CGCampbell There is no concept of "return into the US". I have twice walked from an international departure gate to locations outside security without encountering any officials, nor any restrictions other than having to pass through one-way doors. I then returned to the gate with no more than normal airport security checks--while I was using my passport I could have done the same thing with my driver's license. (Situation: bird broke, we had to wait 8 hours for a replacement to arrive.) Sep 21, 2022 at 4:20

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