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Passport Requirement Takes Hold

People rush to get passports as new rules take effect that require them for re-entry into the country from Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda.

K.C. Jones

January 23, 2007

2 Min Read

Postal and passport offices in the Unites States and Canada were busy Tuesday as a new rule required the documents for U.S. entry from Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda.

The new requirement is part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which aims to meet some of the recommendations from the 9/11 Commission. Congress approved of the measure in 2004 with the passage of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.

Though government agencies, airports, and travel providers in the United States and Canada have publicized the requirement for months, media in both countries reported long lines and waits as travelers scrambled at the last minute to obtain the documents for upcoming trips.

The State Department has also added staff to accommodate high demand for passports. The State Department said it issued a record number of passports (12.1 million) to Americans in fiscal year 2006 and expects to issue even more (16 million) in 2007.

Airports throughout the United States reported no problems, and officials in Canada said the government here was being "flexible" about the new requirement. Some travelers made it through checkpoints Tuesday with extra screening. Other travelers made contingency plans to drive in case their passports don't arrive in time for upcoming trips. Passports will not be required for land and sea entry until Jan. 1, 2008, at the earliest, according to the State Department.

The Travel Industry Association reported more than 1.2 million hits and 50,000 unique visitors to GetAPassportNow.com, a Web site launched Dec. 11 to raise passenger awareness of the new requirement. According to the TIA, only 27% of Americans and 40% of Canadians had passports when the site launched.

However, the Department of Homeland Security reported that awareness was growing among travelers. Eighty-eight percent of air travelers entering the United States from affected areas were already complying with the requirement before the rule took effect Tuesday, according to DHS.

Ninety-nine percent of Bermudans and 94% of Canadians presented passports upon arrival at U.S. airports from the end of November through January, DHS reported. Eighty-eight percent of Mexicans presented the documents, compared with 83% of Americans, according to DHS figures.

There are exceptions to the new rule. People carrying Merchant Mariner documents from the U.S. Coast Guard can present those documents without passports if they are traveling on official business. Legal permanent Canadian and U.S. residents meeting certain requirements are allowed to use NEXUS air cards in some airports, and the government continues to accept green cards from permanent U.S. residents. Active-duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces are also exempt.

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