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Edited 11/23/06: The passport situation has changed again -- read the latest passport news.

After taking measures May 16 to delay passport requirements at US/Canadian and Mexican land borders until June 1, 2009, Congress finalized the agreement Monday (September 26) in view of the fact that a proposed border id card and the technology to read it will not be ready by a January 8, 2007, deadline. Because of its potentially devastating effect on cross-border land travel, tourism leaders, especially from the student travel industry, have lobbied against a rule scheduled to take effect in 2007 requiring US citizens to show passports or id cards like the proposed PASS cards at US land borders. Read

Legislators will vote on the land-only rule change as part of a Homeland Security funding package before Congress later this week.

Student Travel Industry on Passport Rules: Cost May Be Prohibitive

Some student travel leaders have cited passport costs as a potentially prohibitive deterrent to students who might otherwise plan travel across Canadian and Mexican borders; passport fees currently total $97 ($82 for those under 16) and a border id like a PASS card card will probably be about $50. Smaller percentages of young people have passports than do older travelers and estimates are that only 27% of American citizens currently hold passports, though no hard numbers on passport-holding student travelers are available. The National Tour Association, which has a membership comprised largely of tour operators, had previously informed the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security that "...a passport-only (border crossing) requirement would severely limit student travel."

Doug Ellison, owner of a youth travel firm outside Ontario, Canada, told the Washington Post this spring that should passport requirements be enforced at the US/Canadian border, he could "...see the student travel business [from Canada into the United States] almost drying up."

"The proximity of these countries, especially Canada and Mexico, makes them among the most popular destination for U.S. students. The United States is equally popular for many young travelers coming from these countries," wrote the US-based Student Youth Travel Association in a December, 2005, press release.

“An ID card sounds like a good alternative, but even if the cost is modestly high, or the process of getting one is complicated and time-consuming, young travelers will still face the same obstacles they would getting passports,” said Michael Palmer, SYTA’s executive director, in December. “We suggest making the IDs free to young travelers, or offer it to them at a minimal cost that takes into account the family’s financial status.”

Current Passport Regulations

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 currently requires US travelers returning from some nearby countries by air or sea to begin presenting passports at US customs on January 8, 2007; the much-extended deadline was most recently changed from January 1, 2007. Overland travelers must meet the passport requirement at US/Canadian and Mexican borders by January 1, 2008 (that's the deadline being voted on this week). Currently, no passport is needed to return to the US from travel to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, Panama and the Caribbean -- a driver's license and birth certificate embossed by the issuing state suffice. Passports are the easiest way to identify oneself at borders, though, and are the type of travel identification recommended to US citizens by the US Department of State.

Travel Experts Predicted Delay

After the Congressional vote of May 16, travel experts predicted that the passport deadline would have to be extended, as the land deadline probably will be this week, because the US was not moving quickly enough to prepare for what would be a massive change at US borders.

The passport rules may change yet again -- some Caribbean government officials have expressed dismay with the rules requiring US citizens to have passports when getting home from those sunny destinations by sea or air after January 8, 2007. Regardless, now is the time to get a passport if travel is on your horizon; delay will create fees if you've got to rush the passport application process.

Related: May 2006: "Mexico, Canada Passport, Travel Rule Deadline To Be Extended?" | September 2006: "Passport Deadline Extended Again" | Passport Rule Change Archives | How to Write Your Congressman

    Photo © Kathleen Crislip 2006
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