State Department Admits Surge Of Applications Wasn't
Talk about a governmental logjam.
Because of a new passport rule that took effect in January, the
State Department has issued more than 4.5 million passports this
year, a 60 percent increase from last year, and millions more are
waiting to be processed. The wait time for a passport application
to be processed has doubled over last year.
The new rule requires those traveling to and from Canada,
Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda to
present a passport to enter or re-enter the United States... just
in time for the peak travel season.
The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative took effect January 23
and was mandated by Congress in the Intelligence Reform and
Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 to strengthen border security and
facilitate entry into the United States for citizens and legitimate
international visitors, said the State Department.
But, that summer vacation may be saved yet. The White House
announced Friday the new rule will be waived until Sept. 30, 2007.
To regain entry to the US those traveling to the affected Western
Hemisphere countries will have to provide only a photo ID such as a
driver's license and proof that a passport application has been
submitted for processing.
"That's great news," Doug Le told the LA Times. He said he has
been waiting 12 weeks for passports for his sons for a Bahamas trip
next week. "I was about to write to my congressman. I'm glad
they're doing something."
Russ Knocke, Department of Homeland Security spokesman, said
only travelers who have already applied for passports are eligible
for the waiver, according to the New York Post Star.
"Individuals who have not yet applied for a passport should not
expect to be accommodated," Knocke said.
To travelers who have been forced to cancel cruises and postpone
vacations, the governmental crawfishing is of little
"It's too little, too late," Jana Beilstein said. She told the
Times she lost her $4000 25th anniversary cruise because she didn't
receive her passport in time. "They should have had things in place
before they started any of this. How many other people are out
thousands of dollars like me? It's been a horrible, horrible
The passport agency said it has been inundated with applications
and has not been able to keep up since the new rule took effect.
This waiver will decrease the pressure and allow applications for
overseas travel to be processed more quickly.
"Someone who goes to
France could be put in front of the line because you would need a
passport to enter that country," said Representative Heather A.
Wilson (R-NM). "This is the relief my constituents needed."
She and other members of Congress have fielded thousands of
complaints on the issue. "Basically they have acknowledged that
there is a problem and it will take the rest of the summer to work
this out," Wilson said.
The assistant secretary for consular affairs, Maura Harty,
acknowledged the deluge of applications was not expected.
"What we did not anticipate adequately enough was the American
citizens' willingness and desire to comply with the Western
Hemisphere Travel Initiative in the timeframe that they did," Harty
She said 145 people had been hired last month and she expects
another 400 to be hired this quarter, according to the Post
The Senate responded to the uproar Thursday by proposing an
amendment requiring the secretary of State to show Congress enough
people had been hired to handle the problem, according to the
The waivers expire September 30. The "proof of application" form
should be on the passport website shortly.