New travel laws in effect for air travelers

As a result of recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission, Congress passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 into law. The new travel document requirements make up the Departments’ Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI).

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of State (DOS) to develop and implement a plan to require all travelers, U.S. citizens and foreign nationals alike, to present a passport or other document, or a combination of documents, that denote identity and citizenship when entering the United States. Congress amended portions of the Act in 2006. The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative is the Administration’s proposed plan to implement this mandate.

The goal of the Initiative is to strengthen border security and facilitate entry into the United States for U.S. citizens and legitimate foreign visitors by providing standardized, secure and reliable documentation which will allow the Department of Homeland Security to quickly, reliably and accurately identify a traveler.

In order to obtain national security benefits as quickly as possible, and to expedite the processing of arriving passengers, the plan will be implemented in two phases:

The first phase:

Effective January 23, 2007, ALL persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling by air between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda will be required to present a valid passport, Air NEXUS card, or U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Document (MMD), or an Alien Registration Card, Form I-551, if applicable.

The MMD is issued by the U.S. Coast Guard to U.S. Merchant Mariners and will only be accepted when used on official business. The NEXUS Air card is issued to citizens of Canada and the United States, lawful permanent residents of the United States and permanent residents of Canada who meet certain eligibility requirements. The NEXUS Air card will only be accepted when used in conjunction with the NEXUS Air program at certain airports.

As proposed, all active duty members of the United States Armed Forces traveling with military identification will be exempt from the requirement to present a valid passport when entering the United States.

The second phase:

As early as January 1, 2008, 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), may be required to present a valid passport or other documents as determined by the Department of Homeland Security.

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 and do not need to present a passport. U.S. territories include the following: Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Swains Island, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

The Documentation:

U.S. Passport: U.S. citizens may present a valid U.S. passport when traveling via air between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda, and may also use a U.S. passport when traveling via sea and land borders (including ferry crossings).

U.S. citizens can find information about how to apply for a passport at the U.S. Department of State web site or by calling 1-877-487-2778.

The Passport Card (also referred to as the PASS or People Access Security Service Card): This limited-use passport in card format is currently under development and will be available for use for travel only via land or sea (including ferries) between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. The card is similar in size to a credit card and should fit easily into a wallet.

The limited-use passport card will be adjudicated to the same standards as a traditional passport book. The rule proposes a wallet-sized card that would cost $10 for children and $20 for adults, plus a $25 execution fee.

The technology incorporated into the proposed card was designed in coordination with DHS specifically to address the operational needs of land border-crossings. The proposed passport card would use long-range, or vicinity, radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to link the card to a secure U.S. government database containing biographical data and a photograph.

DOS and DHS also anticipate that the following documents will continue to be acceptable for their current travel uses under WHTI: SENTRI, NEXUS and FAST.

Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) provides expedited CBP (U.S. Customs and Boarder Protection) processing for pre-approved, low-risk travelers. Applicants must voluntarily undergo a thorough biographical background check against criminal, law enforcement, customs, immigration, and terrorist indices; a 10-fingerprint law enforcement check; and a personal interview with a CBP Officer.

NEXUS is a bi-national trusted traveler program operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Canada Border Services Agency. The NEXUS program allows pre-screened, low risk travelers to be processed with little or no delay by United States and Canadian officials at designated highway lanes at high volume border crossing locations, at a NEXUS kiosk at the Vancouver International Airport, and at certain marine reporting locations in the Great Lakes and Seattle, Washington regions.

Free and Secure Trade (FAST) Commercial Driver program is a program that will allow commercial drivers to use one application form to apply for expedited U.S. / Canadian Customs and Immigration processing while transporting qualifying commercial shipments at the U.S. / Canadian border.

For more information on frequent traveler programs, visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection web site.

The U.S. Department of State’s news release form is available on their site.

For a list of frequently asked questions, visit the U.S. Department of State’s web site.

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