Weatherford Democrat

January 11, 2008

Confusion continues about implementation of passport regulations

GARLAND — New deadlines concerning necessary documentation are about to impact international travelers when they return to the United States. On Jan. 31, 2008, returning U.S. citizens and residents entering by land or sea from Canada, the Caribbean or Mexico will need to produce an original birth certificate, passport or other form of government issued identification like a Nexus card along with a picture ID. Previously, oral declarations of citizenship were sufficient (although scrutiny along the border with Mexico is closer than the Canadian boundary). Then in June, travelers are scheduled to need to have a current passport to cross boundaries back into the United States by any mode of travel. However, Congress is trying to delay those provisions until at least June of 2009 because enforcement will interfere with commerce along the borders.

In the next few years, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) will mandate that all travelers crossing into the United States have a current passport, but no one can predict when it will all go into effect. Because there was a tremendous processing backlog last summer, deadlines were delayed and Congress now wants them postponed again. Currently, all persons entering the US by air must have a valid passport, but documentation using other modes of travel is still being phased in.

Until the requirements are clarified, Robbert van Bloemendaal, President of CWT: All About Travel in Garland, Texas suggests that clients be prepared and have a passport well ahead of their intended travel. “Passports cost $97 for new applicants, but they are valid for ten years in most instances.” said van Bloemendaal. “It would benefit the potential traveler to get a passport now, in advance of scheduling any international excursions.”

The number of passports being processed has steadily increased since 2004 when the WHTI went into effect. Limited use passport I.D. cards are in development but they are not yet available and will only benefit travelers in the Western Hemisphere once they are offered. Turn-around times for passports are less now than during the fall when the requirements were suspended for a month, but travelers still need to allow 4 to 6 weeks for processing applications. Resorts, tour companies and cruise lines offered rebates and discounts in response to the new passport regulations for months after the first change of requirements in January of 2007 but that is less likely today according to van Bloemendaal.

Information about travel documentation can be found at the U.S. Department of State website at cbpmc/cbpmc_2223.html.