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- Many airlines have canceled flights from Israel, making it difficult for Americans who want to evacuate from the country. The State Department said Oct. 12 that it will charter flights out of Israel to Europe for U.S. citizens.
- U.S. citizens who want the federal government’s assistance have been asked to sign a promissory note saying they will reimburse the government for evacuation costs.
- A 2002 amendment to a law requires that the federal government seek reimbursement to evacuate U.S. citizens from overseas during war, civil unrest or natural disasters. The law has roots in an earlier World War II policy.
Editor’s note, Oct. 18: After publication, we received additional information about the history of the federal government seeking reimbursement for evacuating U.S. citizens from overseas. We have updated this fact-check.
As thousands of Americans try to flee Israel amid a war, the State Department has offered U.S. citizens the opportunity to get a chartered flight — if they pay.
Many commercial airlines canceled flights to and from Israel after it was attacked by Hamas, leaving tens of thousands of Americans in the country with few options to evacuate. Hundreds of Americans also are stuck in Gaza.
The State Department said Oct. 12 that it would charter flights out of Israel to Europe, and the U.S. Embassy in Israel said citizens will be "asked to sign an agreement to repay the U.S. government prior to departure."
Critics of the Biden administration were angered that Americans will need to pay their own way.
"FACT Check: Conservatives are attacking Biden saying he's requiring Americans Trapped in Israel, who want to leave, sign a promissory note to repay costs? FACTS: This has been US policy for at least 79 years!"
Krassenstein said the promissory note policy, known as a form DS-5528, goes "back to at least 1944."
We researched the policy’s origins and found it predates Biden’s administration by decades. The policy was used in World War II and was codified into law in 2002.
At some points in history, American evacuees did not end up paying the transportation costs, but it’s unclear whether the requirement will be lifted for people leaving Israel now.
We found a telegram Secretary of State Cordell Hull sent in August 1944 to the American Legion in Stockholm, Sweden, about Americans who had been evacuated.
The telegram refers to 92 people and says adults "should be required to sign a promissory note" for the cost of transportation to Stockholm from Helsinki, Finland. It says children should be charged a half-fare.
(Screenshot of telegram from Franklin D. Roosevelt Library)
In 2002, Congress passed H.R.1646, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act. Although most of the legislation related to funding for foreign affairs programs, it also made an amendment to the State Department Basic Authorities Act of 1956 (22 U.S.C. 2671(b)(2)(A)). The House report stated that when the federal government evacuates U.S. citizens, reimbursement is based on the "extent feasible" and should not be greater than the amount of commercial air fare at the lowest rate available before the onset of war, civil unrest or natural disaster.
The House Report also stated that by allowing the State Department to seek reimbursements, "this section of the bill codifies existing practice and would have no impact on the budget."
The State Department website says people evacuated on U.S. government-coordinated transport must sign an Evacuee Manifest and Promissory Note (form DS-5528) before they leave.
The form says the travelers know they will be billed for the cost. Payment is due within 30 days, but citizens can pay in installments, given State Department approval.
The State Department’s website explains, "U.S. law requires that departure assistance to private U.S. citizens or third country nationals be provided ‘on a reimbursable basis to the maximum extent practicable.’"
Searching news reports, we found multiple past examples of the law being cited. Sometimes, the repayment requirement was waived.
In 1989, the U.S. Embassy evacuated 282 Americans from El Salvador on chartered flights "after as many as nine U.S. officials and their families spent a harrowing night pinned in their homes by cross fire and rebel raids," the Miami Herald reported. "The evacuation was the first in 10 years of civil war." The embassy paid for flights of its staff and dependents, and asked other Americans to sign a $500 promissory note.
In 1990, a two-paragraph brief in the Los Angeles Times said the U.S. government would pay the costs of evacuating American citizens from Iraq and Kuwait. An unnamed government official told the Times that some officials may have asked evacuees to sign promissory notes covering airfares, but that was contrary to the George H.W. Bush administration’s policy.
In July 2006, when the State Department was evacuating U.S. citizens out of Lebanon, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., called on the State Department to not charge U.S. citizens. The department dropped plans to seek reimbursement.
In February 2011 amid a revolt in Libya, the American embassy in Libya used a ferry to evacuate Americans to Malta. Reports by CNN and The Associated Press said the evacuees would be required to reimburse the government.
During the COVID-19 pandemic’s early months, some lawmakers introduced legislation seeking to amend the law. Some bills called for waiving the reimbursement requirement if it was related to COVID-19. The bills did not reach a vote.
PolitiFact asked the White House whether the Biden administration is considering lifting the requirement for reimbursement but received no immediate response. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby announced plans Oct. 12 to have chartered flights but did not share any details.
CBS reported that flights would begin Oct. 13 from Tel Aviv to Athens, Greece, or Frankfurt, Germany, and ships would leave Haifa, Israel, and travel to Cyprus.
Krassenstein said it "has been US policy for at least 79 years" to require Americans who intend to be evacuated from overseas to sign a promissory note.
In August 1944, a telegram from the U.S. secretary of state said American adults who had been evacuated in Europe during World War II "should be required to sign a promissory note" for the cost of transportation. In 2002, Congress amended the law to codify the practice.
The policy has been cited for decades when Republican and Democratic administrations have evacuated Americans during war or conflicts.
We rate this statement True.
PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
RELATED: Read all of our Israel-Gaza coverage
Brian Krassenstein, Tweet, Oct. 12, 2012
U.S. Secretary of State, Telegram, Aug. 19, 1944
White House, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby, Oct. 12, 2023
State Department, Information for U.S. Citizens about a U.S. Government-Assisted Evacuation, Accessed Oct. 12, 2023
State Department, Crisis intake form, Accessed Oct. 12, 2023
U.S. Embassy in Israel, Security Alert #7: U.S. Embassy Jerusalem, Oct. 13, 2023
Congressional Research Service, Helping U.S. Citizens Abroad During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Other International Crises: Role of the Department of State, May 13, 2020
ABC News, State Department announces plan to fly Americans out of Israel, Oct. 12, 2023
Ed O’Keefe of CBS News, Tweet, Oct. 12, 2023
Washington Post, For American family trapped in Gaza as bombs fall, there’s no way out, Oct. 12, 2023
Miami Herald, Americans in Salvador evacuated, Dec. 1, 1989
Los Angeles Times, U.S. to pick up tab for Gulf evacuees, Dec. 13, 1990
CNN, Middle East Crisis Continue, July 18, 2006
State Department, The July 2006 Evacuation of American Citizens from Lebanon, June 7, 2007
Copley News service, Lahood urges Israel to show restraint against Lebanon, July 18, 2006
AP, Americans frustrated, angry over US evacuation efforts in Lebanon, July 19, 2006
CNN, Foreigners scramble to get out of Egypt as protests turn violent, Feb. 2, 2011
CNN, Countries scramble to get citizens out of Libya, Feb. 13, 2011
Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State, Statement to PolitiFact, Oct. 12, 2023
Interview, Brian Krassenstein, Oct. 12-13, 2023
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