If you’re a U.S. citizen and haven’t obtained a passport yet, now would be a very good time to do so, even if you don’t have any immediate travel plans. Five months from now, new regulations proposed by the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department will require U.S. citizens returning by air or sea from certain countries to have a passport or other proof of identity and citizenship in order to re-enter the country.
As part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initative first proposed last year, citizens of the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, the Caribbean, and Central and South America will be required to show a passport when entering the U.S., and U.S. citizens traveling to these countries will be required to prove their citizenship by showing approved documents in order to re-enter the country.
On Friday the departments published their proposed regulations, (PDF) outlining the documents which will be accepted: passports, NEXUS Air trusted traveler cards, U.S. military ID, and Merchant Mariner Documents.
The regulations cover only air and sea crossings and will take effect January 8, 2007. Separate regulations covering land border crossings will take effect January 1, 2008, and will be published separately, according to the State Department.
The new land border crossing regulations are expected to negatively impact tourism and trade across the U.S.-Canada border as people will see traveling to Canada as too much of a hassle. A 2005 Canadian Tourism Commission report (PDF) predicted 7.7 million fewer Americans would visit Canada, and 3.5 million fewer Canadians would visit the U.S., in the three years following implementation of the land border restrictions.
I certainly wouldn’t go. I once went to Vancouver, B.C., for a day simply because I happened to be in Seattle at the time. I’m almost certainly not the only one who would make such an impulse trip.
The State Department will accept comments on the proposed air and sea entry regulations through September 25. Unfortunately, they don’t make it very easy to submit comments online. To shortcut things a bit, go to www.regulations.gov, enter in document ID DOS-2006-0241-0001 in the search box, and a link to Add Comments should come up.