New Initiative

By LISA S. KING

FN Asst. Editor  

Continuing with measures to ensure border security, the U.S. Department of Home-land Security (DHS) and the Department of State (DOS) yesterday released a Notice of the Proposed Rule making (NPRM) for the land and sea portion of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI).

In an official statement on the NPRM by the DHS and the DOS, they explain that the first rational step they intend to take as they move towards full WHTI implementation is to end the routine practice of accepting oral declarations alone at land and sea ports of entry.

On January 31, 2008, U.S. and Canadian citizens will need to present either a WHTI- compliant document or a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s licence, plus proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate. DHS also proposes to begin alternative procedures for U.S. and Canadian children at that time.

At a later date to be determined by the Secretary of Homeland Security in consultation with the Secretary of State, the departments will implement the full requirements of the land and sea phase of WHTI. DHS and DOS expect the date of full WHTI implementation to be in the summer of 2008.

The proposed rules require most U.S. citizens entering the United States at sea or land ports of entry to have either a U.S. passport; a U.S. passport card; a trusted traveller card such as NEXUS, FAST, or SENTRI; a valid Merchant Mariner Document (MMD) when travelling in conjunction with official maritime business; or a valid U.S. Military identification card when travelling on official orders. The NPRM also outlines ongoing efforts to provide other alternative documents.

The NPRM follows an Advance Notice of Public Rule making (ANPRM) for land and sea published in the Federal Register on September 1, 2005, and a final rule for the Air Phase of WHTI that was published in the Federal Register on November 24, 2006. WHTI requirements for all air travel have shown compliance rates in excess of 99 percent since implementation.

Many concerns had surfaced in 2005 when the DHS and the DOS had issued a public notice requiring all U.S. citizens and foreign nationals to present a passport or other appropriate security document when entering the United States.

They declared at the time that all land–based travellers from Canada, Mexico and cruise ship passengers (sea) were being given time to get passports by June 2009, but had put forth a regulation for American air travellers to the Caribbean to have their passports by January 8, 2007.

This two-year difference in the deadline for land and sea travellers verses airline travellers had left some Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) members believing that Americans trekking to the Caribbean will opt to take a cruise – where they are not required to have their passports until 2009 – instead of taking a plane ride and staying at a reputable hotel, where they would have to have a passport by January 8.

The rule had been scrutinized by various tourism leaders of the Caribbean, who claimed that its January 8, 2007 deadline placed the hotel sector of the region at an economic and competitive disadvantage.

Because of the concerns put forth by Caribbean tourism industry heads, U.S. leaders began seeking ways to review the rule with the hope of having the deadline extended.

Fortunately, the time has been extended as the DHS and DOS announced several weeks ago that U.S. citizens travelling to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda who have applied for, but not yet received passports, can nevertheless temporarily enter and depart from the United States by air with a government issued photo identification and Department of State official proof of application for a passport until September 30, 2007.

The federal government is making this accommodation for air travel due to longer than expected processing times for passport applications in the face of record-breaking demand.

Upon hearing the news, Tourism Director General Vernice Walkine said her ministry welcomes the U.S. passport initiative easement.

In a statement released to The Freeport News, the Director General noted that the extended time is a wonderful development for the tourism industry of the country, especially for the summer vacation season which is usually busy for The Bahamas with lots of family travel.

“There have been numerous reports of the growing frustrations that U.S. passport application delays had caused many would-be holiday goers,” she said. “So we are especially pleased, because this means that any visitors whose vacation to The Bahamas may have been in jeopardy due to such delays, now has an alternative, that might still permit them to still enjoy the beautiful islands of The Bahamas.

“The MOT will not relax its initiatives to encourage U.S. citizens contemplating travel outside the country to apply for passports.”

freeport.nassauguardian.net

Information posted by Shea Peil at seasideshea@gmail.com  

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