Pass­port rules to U.S. could change again

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - National - By Sidhartha Ban­er­jee

MON­TREAL — If you think re­cent Amer­i­can leg­is­la­tion de­lay­ing strict new land and mar­itime border iden­ti­fi­ca­tion rules un­til 2009 means you can put off get­ting a new pass­port, think again.

The word­ing in the agree­ment passed by U.S. Congress last week gives Cana­dian land and sea trav­ellers un­til June 1, 2009 to ob­tain a pass­port or an equiv­a­lent, tam­per proof doc­u­ment.

But the leg­is­la­tion also says if the U.S. gov­ern­ment agen­cies spear­head­ing the West­ern Hemi­sphere Travel Ini­tia­tive have com­pleted their work, the rules can be adopted sooner.

“Sooner is a date we can’t pre­dict right now,” U.S. con­sul gen­eral Mary B. Mar­shall said dur­ing a meet­ing with jour­nal­ists Fri­day in Mon­treal.

Both the U.S. State and Home­land Se­cu­rity de­part­ments are on sched­ule to com­plete their work on the ini­tia­tive by the orig­i­nal in­tended launch date, Jan. 1, 2008. And Con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans are pub­licly urg­ing the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion to go ahead as planned.

“Do not sit tight and wait for June 1, 2009,” Mar­shall warned. “I don’t want peo­ple to think they have an may not.”

All U.S. au­thor­i­ties would have to do is give three-months warn­ing, Mar­shall said, so Cana­di­ans need to be pre­pared for it.

All Cana­di­ans and Amer­i­cans en­ter­ing the U.S. via air trans­port will re­quire pass­ports be­gin­ning Jan. 8.

The date was changed by a week to of­fer some lee­way to trav­ellers re­turn­ing from Christ­mas hol­i­days.

The U.S. plan will al­low trav­ellers us­ing and sea borders to en­ter us­ing a pass­port pass­port-like doc­u­ment.

When the re­prieve was an­nounced last week, For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Peter MacKay said it would give Ottawa time to de­velop new tech­nol­ogy to match U.S. de­vel­op­ments.

Mar­shall down­played the eco­nomic and travel prob­lems some de­trac­tors have said will fol­low the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the pro­gram.

“The whole point of this is to fa­cil­i­tate travel, so I think it will ac­tu­ally speed up travel,” Mar­shall said.

Rec­og­niz­ing that some Amer­i­cans will only ever go to Canada, the U.S. is de­vel­op­ing a pass-

ex­tra 18 months when

in

fact they land or a port card, which will in­clude all the in­for­ma­tion in a pass­port but fit in a wal­let.

The tech­nol­ogy should be ready when­ever the West­ern Hemi­sphere Travel Ini­tia­tive is set to go.

Those who have a Nexus card will be spared hav­ing to use a pass­port. A Nexus card al­lows those cross­ing the U.S. border to by­pass reg­u­lar cus­toms and im­mi­gra­tion ques­tion­ing us­ing a ded­i­cated re­serve lane.

In ad­di­tion, the new U.S. pass­port will in­clude an embed­ded com­puter chip with an im­age of the front page of the pass­port to pre­vent any doc­u­ment doc­tor­ing.

“It’s to bat­tle the most com­mon kind of pass­port fraud, which is photo sub­sti­tu­tion,” said deputy con­sul gen­eral Gary Sheaf­fer.

U.S. of­fi­cials will be able to scan the pass­ports. Even­tu­ally, agents from other coun­tries will as well.

Last year, the United States au­thor­i­ties is­sued 12.1 mil­lion pass­ports, com­pared to just seven mil­lion in 2003. There are 70 mil­lion Amer­i­can pass­ports in cir­cu­la­tion, com­pared to 35 mil­lion just a decade ago.

(MON­TREAL GAZETTE)

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