Unless the U.S. Department of Homeland Security can be convinced otherwise, visitors will soon need a passport to get into the U.S., and Americans will need passports to return home when they visit another country.
Known as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), the new rules will kick in for sea and air travel for Jan. 1, 2007, and for all road crossings on Jan. 1, 2008.
The Pacific Northwest Economic Region board, which represents B.C., Alberta, The Yukon, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, is just one of the groups lobbying against the new rules. They gave an update on the status of their talks last month, when PNWER representatives were in Whistler for a Regional Economic Leadership Forum.
According to Ken Oplinger, the president and CEO of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce, WHTI is not a done deal just yet. For one, the Department of Homeland Security is required to file an economic impact statement before the new law can implemented.
Also, the U.S. General Accounting Office has been ordered to produce an economic study on the border issue, looking at the potential economic impact as well as possible alternatives to the passport requirement.
Some of those alternatives include:
• Accepting a national drivers’ license in the U.S. that includes biometric data;
• Accepting the same combination of I.D. that people need to apply for passports, such as drivers licences and birth certificates;
• Improving the implementation of the NEXUS card program;
• Creating a new kind of identification in the U.S. for low-risk citizens that is cheap and available at all post-offices, for people who wish to visit Canada and Mexico and return to the U.S.;
• Extending the passport implementation date of road crossings, which account for most North American cross-border travel, include ferry links as road crossings, and test the new system as a pilot project before making it law.
Only 37 per cent of Canadians have passports, although 90 per cent of the population lives within 150 kilometres of the U.S. border. Only 25 per cent of Americans have passports.
One of the reasons could be cost. An adult passport is $85 for five years in Canada and $97 for 10 years in the U.S.
In terms of visitation between the two countries, in 2003 34 million Canadians visited the U.S., spending approximately $10.9 billion. Conversely just 15 million Americans visited Canada, despite the fact that the population is 10 times larger.