If you are involved in or showing an interest in the US immigration process, you have probably already heard about the term diplomatic immunity. The below article explains a few simple facts about this status.
What is diplomatic immunity?
This refers to a principle of international law that limits the degree to which an official of a foreign government can be subject to the authority of police officers and legal system in their country of assignment. If you think that this means these people can get away with anything, you are wrong.
Strictly speaking, this principle does not actually apply to all foreign government or international organization officials and employees. Also, when it applies, it is not the same for various categories of embassy workers or for their families.
What are the categories that can benefit from diplomatic immunity?
Generally, the high ranking embassy officials, aka ambassadors, senior commercial officers or other high officials who deal directly with the host country’s officials on behalf of their home country are those who benefit from the highest degree of immunity. Legally, this applies to their family members.
The second category involves some embassy personnel, as part of the technical and administrative staff, people involved in supporting various diplomatic activities. These can be sued in relation to personal matters, but nothing related to their professional function.
Other people like embassy drivers actually enjoy the lowest degree of immunity. They have civil immunity only for acts performed in connection with their embassy role. This does not apply to their family members.
What does diplomatic immunity mean?
This means that they cannot be arrested or detained by local police. Also, local authorities have no right to seize their property. Such diplomats cannot be forced to appear in criminal court or cannot be sued in civil court. This is not without exception: they can be summoned in court in certain commercial, real-estate, or inheritance-related matters, or for their separate professional activities.
Does the person with diplomatic immunity have absolute freedom for doing whatever they want?
Any specialized immigration attorney will tell you that diplomatic immunity does not mean that its beneficiaries can do whatever they want and get away with it. When state security is involved or police have reason to believe a person is an imminent danger to public safety, they can disregard this immunity. In cases of traffic violation, even though diplomatic vehicles may not be impounded, police officers are still allowed to issue citations, and host governments may suspend driving privileges.
In addition, officials from the host country have legal rights to request an immunity waiver. Also, the country the diplomat comes from may expel the suspect from the host territory.
If you are a family member of a diplomatic agent or work in an embassy conducting activities on US soil, it is best to contact an experienced immigration attorney to help clarify your case.