What is the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative?
The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative will require all U.S. citizens, Canadians, citizens of the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda, and citizens of Mexico to have a passport or other accepted secure document to enter or re-enter United States by Summer of 2008, at a later date, to be determined, the departments will implement the full requirements of the land and sea phase of WHTI. 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 traveler card such as NEXUS, FAST, or SENTRI; a valid Merchant Mariner Document (MMD) when traveling in conjunction with official maritime business; or a valid U.S. Military identification card when traveling on official orders. The implementation date will be determined based on a number of factors, including the progress of actions undertaken by the Department of Homeland Security to implement the WHTI requirements and the availability of WHTI compliant documents on both sides of the border. DHS and DOS expect the date of full WHTI implementation to be in the summer of 2008. The precise implementation date will be formally announced with at least 60 days notice. The goal is to strengthen border security and facilitate entry into the United States for U.S. citizens and legitimate foreign visitors.
Why is the government implementing this travel initiative?
The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA, also known as the 9/11 Intelligence Bill), mandated that the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, develop and implement a plan to require U.S. citizens and foreign nationals to present a passport, or other secure document when entering the United States. For many years U.S. citizens, and some citizens of other countries in the Western Hemisphere including Canadians, have not been required to present a passport to enter the U.S. Other forms of documents, less secure than the passport such as a driver's license, have historically been accepted.
Will there be any other forms of identification accepted?
The passport (U.S. or Foreign) will be the document of choice for entering or re-entering the U.S. However, other documents that are anticipated to be acceptable under the travel initiative are:
- Border Crossing Card: (BCC - or "laser visa"). Currently, the BCC serves in lieu of a passport and a visa for citizens of Mexico traveling to the U.S. from contiguous territory.
- SENTRI Card: Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection .
- FAST program cards: Free and Secure Trade. This program was designed for truckers who make frequent border crossings.
When will Travel Initiative go into affect?
The Initiative will be rolled out in phases, they state department will be providing as much advance notice as possible to the affected public to enable them to meet the terms of the new guidelines. The proposed timeline is as follows:
- Beginning January 23, 2007, All persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling by air to the United States from all foreign countries including Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda are required to present a valid passport, Air NEXUS card, or U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Document.
- On June 8, 2007, the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security announced that U.S. citizens traveling 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 through 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.
- On January 31, 2008, CBP officers will stop taking verbal declarations of citizenship from U.S., Canadian, or Bermudian travelers as proof of citizenship at sea and land ports of entry.
- By summer 2008, at a 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. The precise implementation date will be formally announced with at least 60 days notice.
Where can I get a Passport?
To obtain a passport for the first time, you need to go in person to one of 7,000 passport acceptance facilities located throughout the United States with two photographs of yourself, proof of U.S. citizenship, and a valid form of photo identification such as a driver’s license. For Information on the application process for a passport click here