Final deadline set for US passport rule

WASHINGTON, United States, March 31, 2008 – They already need a passport when returning home by air, but from June next year, American citizens who cruise to the Caribbean will need that or other approved documents to return home as well.

This as the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of State (DOS) announced the enforcement of the final aspect of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), or the passport rule. The WHTI was among a number of security initiatives recommended after the 9/11 attacks on the US.

The final rule, which also applies to travel to Canada and Bermuda and affects those returning to the US by sea and at land border crossings, will take effect from June 1, 2009 and will enforce the use of passports or other WHIT-compliant documents such as a passcard, valid trusted travel program card, an enhanced driver’s license, a military ID with official travel orders, or a US Merchant Mariner Document.

“We are on course to implement and enforce the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which is an important step forward in securing the homeland,” said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

“Limiting and standardising the types of documents presented will result in a more secure and efficient border. We will continue to encourage cross-border travel and trade while at the same time decreasing identity theft and fraud.”

Meantime, Caribbean visitors to the US will also have to give additional fingerprints when they arrive at the John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York.

The change which affects all international travellers is part of the DHS’ upgrade from two to10-fingerprint collection to “enhance security and facilitate legitimate travel by more accurately and efficiently establishing and verifying visitors’ identities”.

“Quite simply, this change gives our officers a more accurate idea of who is in front of them. For legitimate visitors, the process becomes more efficient and their identities are better protected from theft. For those who may pose a risk, we will have greater insight into who they are,” said Paul Morris, Executive Director of Admissibility and Passenger Programs, Office of Field Operations at the US Customs and Border Protection.