Thursday, November 01, 2007

Updated statement to the previous "it's getting tough cross the Canadian and U.S. Border. Right now Americans can get back into the U.S. by making an oral declaration

ST. STEPHEN - Rumours in the border town that passports would be required in January to drive through the border crossing into Calais are untrue.

Ted Woo, New England chief of public affairs for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said people may have misinterpreted signs that were meant for Americans.

"After January 1, Americans will be required to show proof of citizenship and a photo ID or a passport to get back into the States," said Woo.

Right now Americans can get back into the U.S. by making an oral declaration.

But Woo said the passport issue for Canadians enterting the U.S. is not dead. By the summer of 2008, he said, the Americans' Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative will make passports a requirement for Canadians crossing into the U.S. by land.

"We knew that there were some ramifications and certain flexibilities that we had to have to make sure the transition went smoothly, and that's why we moved it," said Woo. "That is why we changed it from January to the summer."

Woo said by the time summer is here an alternative ID may be available that would take the place of a passport. Woo said there are different programs that would replace the passport.

He said the American officials putting the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative into effect are aware of the ramifications this will have on the border community, which have been thought of as a joined community with its citizens flowing fairly freely back and forth from St. Stephen to Calais. Woo said these ramifications are being felt in border crossings all around the Canadian and American border.

"We are living in post 9/11. Our primary focus is on preventing terrorists from entering the United States and this is the next program we are implementing to take security to the next level. . . . We all live in a different world now."

Woo said driver's licences are not secure enough because they do not show any proof of citizenship. And with more than 5,000 types of birth certificates in the U.S. alone, there is no way to make sure such a document is valid.

Once passports are required at the border, it will not increase wait times, he said, suggesting if anything it will make them shorter.

After the U.S. made it a requirement for Canadians to show a passport before flying into America, and the impending threat of stretching that to land, passport sales have skyrocketed.

Francine Charbonneau, a Passport Canada spokeswoman, said since April 2007 a total of 2.4 million passports have been sold - a 43 per cent increase over last year's numbers.
Charbonneau estimates that 4.7 million passports will be sold by the end of this year.

She said the wait time for passports have dropped from the summer. With more than 800 new employees hired in the last year, and money spent on modernizing equipment, extending service hours and working overtime, she said wait times have been cut in half since the end of summer.

Charbonneau said if a person applies at a Passport Canada office it will take two weeks to get the passport, but expect long lines at the office. The closest passport office is in Fredericton. If a person is applying through a Service Canada office or a Canada Post office, it should take five weeks. If applying by mail, expect to wait six weeks she said.

"The biggest tip I can give people is to plan in advance and never book a trip unless you have a passport in hand," said Charbonneau.

Passports for adults cost $87.

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