By Andrew Mitchell
A new law that will require everyone entering the United States
at any air or sea border crossing to have a passport comes into effect Jan. 23
and has created a last-minute rush for passports across Canada and the U.S.
According to reports, Passport Canada received over 355,000
applications for passports in November alone, a 33 per cent increase over
November of 2006.
Adding to Passport Canada’s challenge is that Canadians who
picked up passports following the terrorist attacks in 2001 are also in the
process of renewing their passports, which expire after five years.
“Passport Canada is making every possible effort to meet the
increase in demand while respecting its service standards,” said Gerald
Cossette, CEO of Passport Canada. “We are taking steps to reduce waiting times
without jeopardizing the security and the integrity of the Canadian passport.”
Those steps include hiring new employees, allowing existing
employees to work overtime, and adding a shift at passport printing centres.
With lines out the door at passport offices, Passport Canada is
also encouraging people to mail their applications or to bring their completed
applications to Canada Post or Service Canada receiving agents for processing.
Passports take six weeks to process, but delays are possible
given the volume of applications. Currently about 40 per cent of Canadians hold
Americans travelling outside their country will also need
passports to return home after Jan. 23. The laws will not apply to Nexus and
Air Nexus card holders on either side of the border.
The U.S. State Department acknowledged that there was an
increased demand for passports, with some post offices and regional centres
reporting about three to five times as many applications as usual in the run-up
to the holidays. In 2007 the U.S. State Department is bracing for about an 80
per cent increase in demands for passports, and is in the process of hiring
Currently about 27 per cent of Americans carry passports.
Things will remain status quo at land borders into the U.S. until the new law comes into effect on Jan. 1, 2008. There are efforts underway on both sides of the border to push back that date to give people more time to comply, while examining possible alternatives like standardized drivers licenses and other forms of identification.