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Passport Rules and Current Passport News

What's Up With Passports Right Now: Passports in the News

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Updated June 25, 2014
FYI: How to check US passport application status here

Passport rules and passport news for US citizens are a bit confusing right now -- understand what's happening with passports rules, who needs passports, whether you need passports to cross US borders and what's going on with passport news. Read on below for the current US passport news and rules or jump around in this article:

Current Passport News

The background: Passports have been in the news often since 2004, the first of many changed deadlines on new passport rules. Citing post-9/11 border security concerns and after four false starts, the US guv began requiring US citizens returning from the Caribbean (excepting US territories), Bermuda, Mexico and Canada by air to present passports on January 23, 2007 (exceptions were made to that date in June, 2007 -- see more just below); historically, travelers were able to move between countries using a birth certificate embossed with state seal and government-issued photo ID. US citizens may still use that ID method to travel by land or sea from Mexico or Canada to the US; legislation dictates that the deadline by which passports must be shown at US land borders is June 1, 2009. The Department of State had been indicating it would try to enforce a land travel/passport rule by summer, 2008 (and before that, they were ludicrously aiming for January, 2008), but in concordance with the 2006 Congressional approval of a report regarding the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, Congress definitively delayed the deadline for using a passport in Mexico/Canada land crossings to June 1, 2009.

The passport rules changes are part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, a set of travel rule changes recommended by the Department of Homeland Security (a government entity launched September 20, 2001 and charged with domestic terrorism protection and anticipation). Cynics say that the Bush administration's stance on illegal immigration was also partially responsible for fixing a situation that, at least in the case of US-Canada border crossings, wasn't broken.

The current situation: Passports are required for entry into the United States from any foreign land by air. US territories (Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and North Mariana Islands) are not foreign lands. US citizens may cross Canadian and Mexican borders using government-issued id like a driver's license and proof of citizenship like an official (usually embossed) US state birth certificate until June 1, 2009.

What's next: Passports will be required for all land and sea border crossings into the US as of June 1, 2009. In the meantime, a few things have and may yet transpire:

  • The PASS card passport substitute has been unveiled
  • High-tech driver's licenses will probably be introduced for border crossing purposes
  • Teens under 18 will be allowed to continue crossing borders with only a birth certificate after the new passport rules take effect, as is currently possible (read more)

A passport land travel rule change date of January, 2008, was a fantasy for the Department of Homeland Security, as some kind of inexpensive border crossing substitute for a $97 passport, like the PASS card, was not going to happen by then and prior passport rule changes had caused serious problems during implementation. At this point, DHS will offer 60 days notice before passports begin to be required for US citizens at Mexico and Canada land borders.

A Congressional conference committee was slated to meet for a discussion which may delay the PASS card implementation as insecure RFID technology proposed for use in chips in the cards is discussed, but they were okayed. The DHS has not really begun to look at economic impacts from the new passport requirements -- the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative will cost more than $100 million annually.

How to keep up: About's Student Travel will blog when news happens on the passport front -- keep an eye out, or bookmark this page for the latest in passport news.

Please go on to the next page to read about current travel requirements and passport rules, like which countries you need passports for.

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