04 October 2006

Delays expected as new passport rules for Americans near

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Major changes in passport rules for Americans returning to the United States from abroad are expected to cause a late crush of passport applications before a January deadline comes into force.

Currently American adults only require a valid driver’s license and birth certificate to go back and forth between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, Panama and most Caribbean islands, but from January 8th passports will be required for almost everyone entering the United States through airports.

American citizens traveling by land or sea will not require passports until June 1, 2009.

The Department of Homeland Security says airline passengers who do not have passports after the cut off date will have to go through a secondary screening to verify their citizenship, causing further delays.

The State Department has estimated that 73 per cent of Americans do not hold a passport and it anticipates the demand for new passports to increase to 16 million this fiscal year, up from 12.3 million last year.

To help handle the work, the government has hired about 250 new employees and added some new locations where people can file applications, bringing the total to more than 8,000.

The fee to acquire an American passport is $97 for adults and $82 for children under 16.

The new regulations have also caused concern for the Caribbean tourism industry, and led to such measures as some resorts going as far as paying the passport application fee for guests.

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