Niagara Gazette

August 3, 2006

Officials push for change to pending passport requirement

BY SHARON DEMARKO-GORDON

You have five months to obtain a U.S. passport for air and sea travel to anywhere in North, South and Central America, unless the federal government scraps or amends legislation that will make the document mandatory effective Dec. 31.

You have 17 months to get the same document for land travel to those areas.

No one in private and public sectors dealing with travel knows whether the new law will stand, which leaves American citizens in a quandary over how to legally re-enter the United States after visiting any place on the two continents, including Caribbean islands and Bermuda.

Kevin Corsaro of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Homeland Security office serving Western New York said the decree takes effect on the originally assigned dates.

“We have heard nothing from the U.S. State Department to indicate there will be a change,” he said.

Travel agents advise customers to stay on the safe side.

“Most countries outside our three continents already require passports,” said Cathie Barile, co-owner of Travel Emporium of WNY Inc. of the Town of Tonawanda. “You have nothing to lose by obtaining your passport. Even if you don’t travel, it is one of the most universal forms of personal identification, if not the most widely accepted.”

But due to the mandate’s political torridity, particularly among tourism providers economically dependent on cross-border trafficking, there is hope in certain quarters that Congress and President George W. Bush will back off.

Arlene White, executive director of the Binational Tourism Alliance serving international travel and trade industries in the United States and Canada, said there is a strong possibility elected leaders will scrub the pending statute.

“Our position is: If you’ve got a passport, great. If not, don’t run out and get one — Nexus to expedite passenger border crossing, the Fast Card for commercial vehicles, a birth certificate, the ‘green card,’ a driver’s license or naturalization papers will suffice, just as they do now.”

With Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and cabinet members assigned economic portfolios urging Bush to adopt a more neutral posture, White said, “we’re a lot closer to a resolve that won’t be as stringent as mandatory passports. We have time for public commentary within a few weeks and a thorough assessment of all the options.”

Three fees are required for a passport: the passport charge of $65 to the State Department, the execution fee of $30 to the postmaster of New York state and the picture cost paid to a private photographer.

Photography is the applicant’s responsibility and must conform to size, pose and mounting requirements set by the government. The usual cost is $15. Six to eight weeks normally are required for passport processing.

Private expedition companies, operating under federal governance, can put a passport in your hands more quickly than the norm — sometimes for less money, according to Adam Krans, customer service representative for American Passport Express.

Applications are available at most post offices and through Web sites for the State Department and private expediters.

Contact Sharon DeMarko-Gordon at 693-1000, Ext. 107.