Congress Seeks Passport Rule DelayBy DEVLIN BARRETT, Associated Press Writer
1 hour, 11 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - Congress is seeking to delay a new security rule requiring passports at all U.S. border crossings next year in hopes of avoiding a repeat of last summer's vacation-killing backlog of passport applications. ADVERTISEMENT
The Bush administration said Monday it opposed the measure and still plans to go forward with implementing the planned passport rule next summer.
Lawmakers said Monday that under a major end-of-the-year spending bill to be voted on this week, the border passport rule would be moved back even further, to no earlier than June 1, 2009.
The first phase of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, or WHTI, went into effect earlier this year, requiring U.S. travelers returning by plane from Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean to carry a passport. As a result of the new requirements, demand for passports soared and the State Department issued a record 18.4 million passports in fiscal year 2007, compared to 12.1 million in 2006.
As a result, wait times for passports ballooned from four to six weeks to 12 weeks, but they have since returned to normal.
Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., said the government should have more time to implement the law, and "do it in a way that won't cause the same passport headaches we saw with the air travel requirement earlier this year."
In border states like Coleman's, the new laws have also raised concerns that local trade and tourism will suffer. In response, the State Department plans to create passcards which will cost less than half the nearly $100 charged for a new passport.
Department of Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said the agency opposes the measure but doesn't believe it will actually stop their implementation plan for the border passport rule.
"A delay in WHTI implementation would create the very type of chaos at the border that Congress has repeatedly urged our department to avoid," Knocke said.
WHTI was passed by Congress as part of a 2004 intelligence reform bill.
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Passport Processing Facing Delays 4/12/2007
4/13/2007 9:31:07 AM LinkTravelers, beware: It’s currently taking longer than ever to obtain or renew a passport, as high volume over the past few weeks has dramatically increased processing times. Clients needing to purchase or renew a passport should allow 10 weeks.
| Add commentPassports
According to the National Passport Information Center, February through April is always the busiest time of year for passport services, since we’re heading into high-travel spring and summer months. Combined with the new travel requirements of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, routine service for passports (usually received within six weeks) is now taking up to 10 weeks. The government’s expediting service, which costs $60 extra and usually takes up to two weeks, is now taking three to four weeks—and possibly longer if the traveler renews by mail.
Amanda Klimak of Largay Travel in Waterbury, CT says that the best way to handle the delay is to plan accordingly:
“When clients are even just thinking about a trip, the very first thing we mention to them is passports.”
“The problem is that they changed the passport rules so much that everyone sort of stopped paying attention,” says Marilyn Cruz of Tzell Travel Group in New York City. “And it’s all of a sudden that people are realizing they really do need one. The passport agencies are so busy that [travelers] now need an appointment to get in, and they’re hard to get.” However, Cruz says that it is possible for travelers who need passports urgently to get them-they are willing to pay an extra fee. Expediting services have a certain number of appointments booked and essentially wait in line for clients; the typical charge is about $200.
“We do all of their work for them,” says Leslie Shapiro of one such agency, It’s Easy Inc., in Manhattan. Her company offers two-day, four-day and one-week options. “We like to hear from people at least 10 days before they are set to travel, though,” she says, calling the current surge in demands for passports “a crisis.”
“Usually we are busy during this season, but not like this,” she adds.
For updates on passport delays, visit www.travel.state.gov/passport.
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