Feds shelve passport rule after overwhelming response

| 6/8/2007

Travelers sweating the federal government’s ability to process passports can breathe easier – at least for the summer.

The Departments of State and Homeland Security issued a joint statement Friday announcing that U.S. citizens traveling to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda may do so without a passport as long as they have official proof they’ve applied for a passport.

According to The Associated Press, the government decided to delay the passport requirement because of a “massive surge in applications that has overwhelmed passport processing centers” and caused three-month delays for many American travelers.

To meet the temporary requirements, adults must have a government-issued photo ID and an official proof of application from the U.S. Department of State. Children 16 and younger who are traveling with a parent or legal guardian only need proof of application.

Americans traveling overseas must still possess a passport.

“Travelers who have not applied for a passport should not expect to be accommodated,” the statement read.

The rule requiring actual passports will go back into effect on Sept. 30, the State Department officials said.

The air travel rule requiring a passport was enacted in January as part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative – mandated by Congress in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. Additional information concerning “temporary travel flexibility within Western Hemisphere” is available by clicking here.

Though air travelers awaiting passports have gotten a break, truckers who leave the U.S. will get their turn with another phase of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative rule beginning next year.

The Departments of State and Homeland Security are expected to require passports at land and sea ports of entry beginning in January 2008. An outline of phased implementation will be published in the Federal Register within two weeks, according to the State Department’s Web site.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer