Passport rules to U.S. could change again
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
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.