On Friday, June 8, 2007, the Departments of State ("DOS") and Homeland Security ("DHS") announced the temporary relaxation of the U.S. passport requirements that apply to U.S. citizens seeking to travel within the Western Hemisphere through September 30, 2007.

The relaxation stems from the tremendous demand for U.S. passports that followed the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative ("WHTI") on January 23, 2007. Under the WHTI, U.S. citizens are required to present U.S. passports when returning by air from destinations within the Western Hemisphere. This change led to such an extraordinary demand for U.S. passports that the DOS was unable to process all the applications in a timely manner.

Under the new DHS/DOS pronouncement, U.S. citizens traveling to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda will be able to travel without a U.S. passport through September 30, 2007 as long as they: (1) have applied for a U.S. passport; (2) have proof from the DOS of the U.S. passport application; and (3) can present government issued photo identification. U.S. citizens who take advantage of this accommodation still may be subject to secondary inspection where the immigration inspectors will evaluate any presented evidence of citizenship or identity and verify all information against available databases.

Travelers who have applied for U.S. passports can check the status of their application online at http://travel.state.gov. Applicants should be able to track progress on this website within one week of the filing. The online status check will confirm that an application is being processed, and will be updated to confirm when the application has been mailed. A print-out of the online status check can be accessed at http://travel.state.gov/passport. If an applicant is within two weeks of travel and the DOS website does not indicate that the U.S. passport application process has been completed, the traveler can call the National Passport Information Center at (877) 487-2778 for information and support in arranging to have their U.S. passports ready before their trips.

The new U.S. passport requirements may be waived under certain circumstances. These exceptions include individual cases of unforeseen emergency and individual cases based on "humanitarian or national interest reasons." However, to prevent delay and frustration at the port of entry, all U.S. citizens should obtain the appropriate documents before they depart.

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