Understanding New Passport Requirements Key to Smooth Travel
Jan 25, 2008
By Congressman Michael Turner (OH-03)
January 25, 2008
After the terrible events of September 11, 2001, our nation knew it needed to enhance security and strengthen our passport regulations. The regulations at the time allowed U.S. citizens traveling in the Western Hemisphere to verbally declare their citizenship and gain admittance to the United States. This system made it very easy for people to slip into the country and, in order to correct this, the bipartisan 9-11 Commission recommended adoption of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.
The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative states that an American citizen trying to reenter the United States of America anywhere in the Western Hemisphere will have to show a valid U.S. passport. If they cannot show a valid U.S. passport or some combination of a picture ID, a birth certificate, or naturalization papers they will not be admitted to the United States. Beginning on January 31, 2008, additional increased identification requirements for crossing U.S. borders will take effect. Knowing the new requirements is key to your uninterrupted travel plans.
When these regulations were adopted last year, it dramatically increased the demand for passports. According to the State Department, there were 18.4 million passport applications processed in 2007, an increase of more than 50% in one year. This sharp increase in demand came in the early months of 2007, when many people are already ordering passports in expectation of spring and summer vacations. Unfortunately, the State Department had not adequately planned to respond to the increased need and there were not enough workers, processing centers or passport booklets to accommodate an increase this large.
People seeking passports had been told by the State Department to allow 8-12 weeks for processing. Once this period had passed, they were told their passport would not be ready for another several weeks. If they could not wait this long, they were told they could pay an additional sum to get the passport expedited or they could get their congressional representative to expedite it for them. My office received hundreds of calls seeking assistance. In over 97% of these cases, we were able to get in touch with the Passport Agency and provide assistance in getting the passport.
Though new processing centers have been created and additional staff has been hired, the demand for passports is expected to be even larger this year. In 2008, Gallup has projected that 29-36 million passport applications will be processed. This is at minimum 10 million more than last year and almost twice the increase of last year.
Over 74 million Americans now have passports and another million more get them every month. Because emergency travel situations can happen, or if you have family living abroad, it may be advisable to get a passport even if no overseas trip is planned. Visit http://travel.state.gov for information about the requirements for applying for a passport and additional travel information. The State Department is optimistic that they have corrected the process from last year. However, the only certain way to avoid a passport delay is to have your passport before you book your trip. Planning ahead to get your passport will ensure that any delays that occur do not disrupt your travel plans.
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