Delay in passport rules has little impact so far

The recent decision by the U.S. Department of State and Homeland Security to ease passport rules for US citizens traveling to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda has had little effect on travelers from New Hampshire so far.

Although the relaxed rules may allow for more impromptu visits to these destinations between now and Sept. 30 – when the change expires — most travelers plan far enough in advance and are unaffected by the recent change in passport rules, according to Sandy Delude, manager of Apollo Travel Service in Concord.

“This has made no change whatsoever. We haven’t gotten a single call,” Delude said. “I think it’s because people still need to apply (for a passport). They still need to go through the process.”

On June 8, officials announced that U.S. citizens traveling to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or the Caribbean could do so with a government-issued photo ID and proof of passport application through Sept. 30.

The temporary accommodation was made in an effort to address the sharp increase in processing times for passport applications after the change was made to require passports to places where they hadn’t been required before, as a result of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which was announced last year.

Passport requests increased by 60 percent between March and May 2007, as compared to the same period a year earlier. In total, some 4.5 million passports were processed during the period, a large portion of them at the federal passport processing center in Portsmouth.

Routine service nowadays can take 12 weeks, up from 10 earlier this year, the State Department said. Faster service, which costs $60 per application, can take three weeks or even longer.

Even proof of application can take time. According to the State Department, regular tracking of pending passport applications can take three to four weeks. Even expedited requests may take a week.

Regardless of the recent change in passport rules Delude continues to “strongly suggest” her clients apply for their passports “as soon as they have an inkling that they will be traveling.”

That’s just what Tom and Jennifer Strickland are planning on doing. The couple is hoping to visit Bermuda in September and will file their passport applications as soon as they know for sure that they are going.

“Even though the new rule says we don’t need a passport in hand, why would we risk it?” Tom Strickland said. “We’ll be planning far enough ahead anyway so that we can get the accommodations we want and the flight we want so why not just go ahead and get out passports. I really don’t see this making a whole lot of difference.”

U.S. travelers with pending passport applications can obtain proof of application at: http://travel.state.gov/passport/get/status/status_2567.html — TRACIE STONE

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