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 the U.S. by January 1, 2008.
Washington -- In a change from previous
law, travel between the United States and the rest of the
Western Hemisphere will now require passports or other secure,
accepted forms of documentation, says the U.S. government.
The new requirements are designed to strengthen
border security and make it faster and simpler for U.S.
citizens and foreign travelers to both enter and leave the
United States, the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Department
of Homeland Security said April 5.
The requirements affect all U.S. citizens
traveling within the Western Hemisphere who do not currently
possess valid passports. They also affect foreign nationals
who previously were not required to present a passport to
enter the United States. In addition, the rules affect citizens
of Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda.
The new plan, called the Western Hemisphere
Travel Initiative, is required under a law signed by President
Bush on December 17, 2004. That law, called the Intelligence
Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, represents
a change for U.S. citizens and citizens of other countries,
including Canada, who were not previously required to present
a passport to enter the United States. Other forms of identification,
less secure than a passport, had historically been accepted.
Maura Harty, assistant secretary of state
for consular affairs, said the United States recognizes
the implications that the new travel requirements "might
have for industry, business, and the general public, as
well as our neighboring countries, and they are important
partners in this initiative."
Randy Beardsworth of the Homeland Security
Department said the goal behind the new travel requirements
is to "strengthen border security and expedite entry
into the United States for U.S. citizens and legitimate
Beardsworth, who is his department's acting
under secretary for border and transportation security,
said that by ensuring that travelers possess secure documents,
such as a passport, his agency will be able to conduct "more
effective and efficient interviews" at U.S. borders.
The State Department said travelers within
the Western Hemisphere are encouraged to obtain a passport
because it offers the most security features. However, the
border-crossing card -- also known as a "laser visa"
-- will be acceptable as a substitute for a passport and
a visa for citizens of Mexico traveling into the United
States from across the Mexican border.
Other documents that will be accepted are
international frequent-traveler cards, used in programs
known by the acronyms SENTRI, NEXUS, and FAST. Although
the three programs vary slightly, they are all based on
the same principle of pre-screening and identifying low-risk
travelers so they can cross the international border without
having to go through the traditional inspections process.
No other document is currently available
that will be an acceptable substitute for a passport or
the three frequent-traveler cards.
The accepted documents must establish the
citizenship and identity of the traveler through electronic
data verification, and will include significant security
features. Ultimately, all documents used for travel to the
United States are expected to include biometric technology
-- such as fingerprint identification -- that can be used
to authenticate the document and verify identity.
The new law will be enforced in phases,
in recognition that the law represents a significant change
in historical practice for many travelers. The law's first
phase, beginning December 31, will apply to all travel (air/sea)
to and from the Caribbean, Bermuda, and Central and South
The second phase, beginning December 31,
2006, applies to all air and sea travel to or from Mexico
The third phase, beginning December 31,
2007, applies to all air, sea, and land border crossings.
More information about how U.S. citizens
can obtain a passport is available online at: travel.state.gov.
Foreign travelers should contact their respective
governments to obtain passports.
Because border communities will potentially
be the most affected by the changes, the new law specifically
states that the concerns of those communities will be considered.
With this in mind, the State Department and the Department
of Homeland Security are issuing an advance notice of proposed
rule-making in the U.S. Federal Register. The notice will
provide vital information about the plan and request the
public's comment on the new rules.
The Federal Register is the official daily
publication for rules, proposed rules and notices of U.S.
federal agencies and organizations.
The State Department's Maura Harty said
the advanced notice of proposed rule-making "will allow
these affected publics to voice concern and provide ideas
for alternate documents acceptable under the law."
Harty said the "overarching need is
to implement this legal requirement in a way that strengthens
security while facilitating the movement of persons and
The U.S. government expects to issue a more
formal rule about the new travel requirements in the Federal
Register later in 2005, following review of the public's
comments regarding the first phase of the plan.
The Federal Register is available online
More information about the new travel requirements
are available on the State Department web site at: travel.state.gov
-- or on the Department of Homeland Security web site at:
Washington File Staff Writer
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: