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Deadline Extended for Proposed U.S. Passport Requirement
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Posted by:Sep 5th 2005, 05:21:33 pm
Fig Tree News TeamSeptember 05, 2005

New timeline will simplify the implementation and provide a longer lead time for travelers to come into compliance with the requirements.

Seeking to avoid a problematic transition for travelers, the United States Department of Homeland Security has settled on a one-year extension of the deadline to implement a new passport requirement for those who re-enter the country from The Bahamas and the rest of the Caribbean region.

The announcement was made Friday in a press statement and came as the answer to prayers of tourism and hotel officials who had been advocating the measure.

Now, air and sea travelers from The Caribbean, Canada, Mexico and Central and South America are required to present passports upon re-entry into the U.S. beginning on December 31, 2006.

The requirement will be extended to all land border crossings as well and air and sea arrivals by December 31, 2007.

"After further review and considering the delay in publishing the public notice in the Federal Register, State and DHS recognized that implementing the December 31, 2005, phase would be problematic for travelers," the press statement from the U.S. Embassy said.

"This new timeline will simplify the implementation and provide a longer lead time for travelers to come into compliance with the requirements,"

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 mandated that the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, develop and implement a plan to require U.S. citizens and foreign nationals to present a passport, or other secure document when entering the United States.

Officials explained that in the proposed implementation plan, the Initiative will be rolled out in phases, providing as much advance notice as possible to the affected public to enable them to meet the terms of the new guidelines.

Additionally, it was announced that the Departments of Homeland Security and State have formally submitted the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative proposal for public comment.

The United States Government had in May granted an additional extension for individuals to submit concerns regarding the implementation of the initiative designed to secure and expedite international travel.

It was in response to the number of letters submitted to the U.S. Government since it announced plans for the execution of the WHTI on April 5, Michael Taylor, spokesperson for the United States Embassy in Nassau told the Bahama Journal.

The plan requires all U.S. citizens, citizens of the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda, and citizens of Canada and Mexico to have a passport or other accepted secure document that establishes the bearer's identity and nationality to enter or re-enter the United States by January 1, 2008.

Over the last few months, tourism officials have expressed fears that policy - which was to have taken effect on January 1, 2005, could have ended up hurting this nation's tourism product.

An estimated 60 million Americans - about 20 percent of the nation's population - have passports.

Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe had said his initial reaction to the new policy was whether such a measure has to be implemented immediately.

"There's the fact that 20 million visitors come to the Caribbean, that our economies are based on tourism, that many of the hotels in each jurisdiction have already booked visitors for next year, that many groups have already booked, that 25 percent of all Americans have passports to this date and that it's going to take the required education to ensure that Americans understand this new policy," the Minister stressed.

Also, the President of the Bahamas Hotel Association Earl Bethel said the association had written to U.S. Ambassador John Rood and Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell to express its "considerable concerns" about the new policy and request that the implementation date for The Bahamas be on par with that of Mexico and Canada.

"As you know, a large number of Americans visiting The Bahamas do not travel with a passport. Many of these visitors are impulse travelers, often from Florida, who make last minute travel decisions and do not possess passports. Another sizable group of travelers without passports are those attending conferences, meetings, etc. - whose travel arrangements are made many months in advance," he explained at the time.

The rationale was that the old deadline did not allow sufficient time to educate the traveling public regarding the new requirements.

By: Tameka Lundy, The Bahama Journal

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