Update, September 28 at 6:12 p.m. ET: The Department of State is only handling evacuations of foreign countries. “The Department of State is not facilitating evacuations from Puerto Rico, as it is a U.S. territory,” Ashley Garrigus, press officer at the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, told MarketWatch.
After facing devastating natural disasters in Puerto Rico and Dominica, those accepting evacuation help from the United States have to worry about paying the federal government. According to MarketWatch, the Trump Administration is reportedly forcing evacuees to sign Evacuee Manifest and Promissory Notes (Form DS-5528) before the flight departs.
The form states, “I promise to repay the US Government in US dollars or the foreign currency equivalent, within 30 days of initial billing, and if not repaid within 60 days of initial billing at an interest rate established in accordance with Federal law, for all applicable expenses for my/our evacuation. This evacuation loan is in addition to any other US Government loans received for other purposes.”
It’s not the first time the government has employed the notes. As MarketWatch states, the notes are a “long-standing but discretionary policy” and are based on “the price of the last commercial one-way, full-fare (not discounted) economy ticket prior to the crisis.” To ensure payment, the government is holding the evacuees’ passports as collateral. “Upon evacuation, a Department of State official must limit an evacuee’s passport. In order to obtain a new passport, an evacuee must arrange payment as agreed upon via the promissory note,” the Department of State’s website reads.
MarketWatch adds that as long as they have proper IDs, government doesn’t require US citizens – which Puerto Ricans are – a passport from those traveling from the PR to the mainland.