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Travel alert: important passport changes begin January 2007

Business travelers need to take steps now to obtain or renew their U.S. passports for all future travel abroad, including within the western hemisphere.

Starting January 8, 2007, U.S. citizens will be required to have a valid passport for reentering the U.S. by air or sea from any foreign country, including Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

“Passports are now being required for countries where they were once exempted for U.S. citizens,” said Vickie Greenlee, CEO of For Travelers Only in Jackson. “Valid passports will be required to re-enter the U.S. on January 8, 2007, if you are traveling back by air and sea, and in January 2008 for land border crossings into the U.S.”

Greenlee recently returned from Washington, D.C., where she met with Frank E. Moss, U.S. Department of State’s deputy assistant Secretary of Passport Services. Moss was the keynote speaker at the American Society of Travel Agents’ legislative summit, where the changes brought about a flurry of discussions among travel agents.

“One of the main things we all talked about was getting the word out to everybody to go ahead and apply for their passports,” said Greenlee. “There are going to be so many thousands of people applying and the government is already experiencing a backlog. Before, you could get passports in two to three weeks, but pretty soon it’ll take six to eight weeks. I’m afraid there’s going to be a lot of people wanting to go on a trip or cruise and they’re not going to be able to get their passport in time.”

Industry leaders don’t expect the new passport changes to significantly impact business travel, but it will affect families traveling out of the country who need four or five passports.

“People don’t really think about it, but just taking a short cruise out of New Orleans will require a passport to get back into the country,” said Greenlee.

The new passports will include a digital or electronic seal that will ensure the document is authentic and smart-card technology that renders the chip inoperable if it is tampered with using energy waves or radio waves.

Passport applications may be obtained from participating post offices or online at www.travel.state.gov (click on applications). The cost of a new passport, which is valid for 10 years, is $97 for travelers 16 years and older. The passport fee for children under the age of 16 is $82.

First-time applicants must submit the application in person to an acceptance facility, such as the downtown Jackson post office. Two passport photos, measuring two inches by two inches, must be submitted with the application, as well as proof of U.S. citizenship, and a valid form of photo identification, such as a driver’s license. Deville Camera and Video, Kinko’s or Walgreen’s are a few of the Jackson locations that make passport photos.

If the passport was received within the last 15 years, the passport holder was over the age of 16 when it was issued and still has the same name or a legal document showing a name change, and the most recent passport is undamaged and available to submit, passport renewals may be completed by mail.

However, a passport must be renewed in person if it is not in the holder’s possession, the previous passport has expired or was issued more than 15 years ago, or was issued when the holder was under the age of 16. Also, if the passport has been altered or damaged, the holder must apply in person.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative prompting passport changes is a result of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which mandated the Secretary of Homeland Security, in collaboration 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 U.S.

The second phase of the initiative will take place January 1, 2008, the statutory deadline for all western hemisphere travel, including land border travel. Passports or other accepted documents determined to sufficiently denote identity and citizenship will be required for anyone crossing at a land border, as well as air and sea.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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