New travel requirements for U.S. citizens

Published 3:34 am Monday, June 18, 2007

By By Jo Bonner
In an effort to strengthen border security, new travel requirements for United States citizens returning from any part of the Western Hemisphere went into effect earlier this year.
The new travel requirement, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), was mandated by Congress in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 to strengthen border security and facilitate entry into the United States for citizens and legitimate international visitors.
WHTI is being implemented in two phases. The first, which went into effect in January of this year, requires all U.S. citizens, including children, traveling by air between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda to present a valid passport, Air NEXUS card, or U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Document, or an Alien Registration Card, Form I-551, if applicable, in order to return to the United States.
The second phase, which is expected to be implemented as early as January 1, 2008, requires ALL persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda by land or sea (including ferries), to present a valid passport or other documents as determined by the Department of Homeland Security.
The Departments of Homeland Security and State recommend that U.S. citizens carry and present government-issued identification when traveling. Although it is not currently required that U.S. citizens present a passport, those arriving by land and sea must still establish, to the satisfaction of the inspecting officer, that they are U.S. citizens.
The passport requirement does NOT apply to U.S. citizens traveling to or returning directly from a U.S. territory. U.S. citizens returning directly from a U.S. territory are not considered to have left the United States.
U.S. territories include the following: Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Swains Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
The WHTI caught many travelers by surprise. As a result of all the confusion surrounding these new requirements and the longer than expected processing times for passport applications, I, along with other members of Congress, asked the White House for some relief.
In response to the concerns we raised, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a change in the implementation of the WHTI earlier this month.
Now, U.S. citizens traveling to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda – who have applied for but not yet received passports – can 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 through September 30, 2007.
You may print a status report of your application at as proof your application has been received by the Department of State.
Children under the age of 16 traveling with their parents or legal guardian will be permitted to travel with the child's proof of application.
This new accommodation to the WHTI only applies to those citizens who have applied for a passport. Those who have not applied for a passport should not expect to be accommodated.
At the same State Web site (, you can monitor the status of your passport application. Within one week of applying, you are able to track the progress of your application.
If it is within two weeks of your departure date, and the website does not indicate your passport is completed, you should call the National Passport Information Center (NPIC) toll-free at 877-487-2778 for assistance in arranging to have your passport ready in time for your trip.
If you benefit from the new travel accommodation – mentioned previously – for those traveling to Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and Bermuda, you do not need to contact the NPIC about your application.
Complete information on how to apply for a passport is available at the Consular Affairs website,
My office has been working diligently to help many of you who have applied for expedited passports, but it is important that you allow plenty of time, at least 10 to 12 weeks, in order to make the necessary arrangements so you won't have to delay that important business trip or well-deserved vacation.
My staff and I work for you. If we can ever be of service, do not hesitate to call my office toll free at 1-800-288-8721 or visit my website at
Jo Bonner is a U.S. congressman. His column appears weekly.

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