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New passport initiative announced to better secure America’s borders

U.S. to toughen passport rules; Americans need to carry passports on returning from Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean


May 6, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

The era of easy travel for U.S. citizens returning from the Caribbean is over. The federal State Department and the Department of Homeland Security recently made public that citizens of the U.S. visiting Canada, the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda, and Mexico will have to present a passport–instead of merely flashing a driver’s license or birth certificate–to enter or re-enter the U.S. starting Dec. 31, 2006.

The measure is the first post-9/11 travel restriction aimed at U.S. citizens as opposed to foreigners. Airline reservation agents will have to notify passengers about the passport requirement when they book trips, while airport ticket agents will verify travelers have the documents.

Currently, U.S. citizens aren’t required to present a passport to enter or re-enter the U.S. or U.S. possessions when traveling within the Western Hemisphere. The Intelligence Reform & Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 established measures to ensure Americans returning from trips to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and elsewhere will have to show a valid passport at borders and airports.

Sources close to the State Department said this measure, dubbed the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, wouldn’t apply to interstate travel and U.S. possessions, including Puerto Rico.

To date, this has been the most sweeping effort to tighten security at U.S. borders. The measure was introduced in part because of a situation in the Miami International Airport in which congressional investigators re-entered the country using fake licenses and certificates.

Roughly 60 million U.S. citizens have passports, which can cost about $100 to obtain. Last year, the federal government issued 8.8 million new passports. The number of new passports issued per year is expected to jump to 10.5 million this year.

The impact on Caribbean tourism will be significant, said Ronald Sanders, a former Caribbean diplomat. He argued the new travel requirement would lead to a significant drop in the number of U.S. visitors, airlines, and cruise ships coming to the Caribbean and, in turn, cause a reduction in jobs and the amount of money earned from tourism in the region.

Jamaica Tourism Director Paul Pennicook confirmed that more than 50% of U.S. visitors to the island nation in 2004 didn’t have a passport. Tourism authorities in the Bahamas are also aware that U.S. citizens travel with birth certificates and a government-issued photo. "We recognize the economic implications this might have for the [tourism] industry, business, and general public, as well as our neighboring countries," explained Maura Harty, Bahamas assistant secretary of state for consular affairs. "The overarching need is to implement this legal requirement in a way that strengthens security while facilitating the movement of people and goods," she said.

U.S. citizens will still be able to flash their birth certificates and driver’s licenses when they visit the island. Still, Puerto Ricans will have to obtain a passport if they want to visit neighboring Caribbean islands, Latin American countries, or Canada and re-enter the island without a hitch. They will have to show their U.S. passports upon arrival to the cruise port, or the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in Isla Verde, or any other points of entry on the island.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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