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US passport rules for 2007 delayed by one week

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The date when passports will be required for U.S. citizens flying or cruising to Canada, the Caribbean and Mexico has been extended by one week, to 08 January 2007. The earlier deadline for requiring passports for air and sea passage to those destinations from 31 December 2006 was changed to accommodate holiday travellers, according to U.S. State Department spokeswoman Laura Tischler.

Until the new rules take effect, Americans may travel to Canada, Mexico and most Caribbean countries and then re-enter the U.S. with just a driver's license and birth certificate. Tischler added that Congress is considering extending the deadline even further.

Only about 25 percent of Americans have current, valid passports, and many travel agents are trying to educate their customers about the new rules. There has been some concern that millions of new passport applications filed in the next 90 days will likely swamp available resources and result in dramatic delays issuing new passports.

The possibility of incorrectly issuing passports to individuals has also been raised by the Department of Homeland Security, especially when it is taken into account that the new biometric passports have just been rolled out this past August.

A recent survey found that 88 percent of agents for travel agencies say they are advising customers of the change in regulations. Nearly half the agents say they have helped customers obtain passports. Only 32 percent said that a majority of their customers already hold valid passports.

Americans will still be able to visit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands without a passport after the new rules take effect. This is a correction to contrary reports recently. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are U.S. territories and are effectively considered to be U.S. soil.

It is still planned that on 01 January 2008, passports will be required for all land-based border crossings into Canada and Mexico and back into the U.S.

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