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New passport laws affect spring breakers

Rohan Anand | Thursday, January 25, 2007

Starting on Tuesday, the United States Department of Homeland Security began requiring air travelers re-entering the United States departing from cities in Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda to carry a passport with them – changes that will affect Notre Dame students who intend to travel to the involved countries either for spring break or study abroad.

It is the first of a two-pronged phase initiated by the 9/11 commission, titled the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) – and will likely affect Spring Break travelers in March.

The second component of the WHTI, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2008, will extend the passport requirements to include travelers entering the United States crossing land and sea borders.

“These new laws were implemented most likely because of increasing risks in air travel,” said Kayleen Carr, leisure manager for Anthony Travel. “They were actually supposed to begin last year, but the airlines kept postponing the dates because of the potential effect they could have on tourism in Mexico and [the] Caribbean.”

Because the National Passport Processing Center in New Orleans will most likely be receiving an influx in applications owing to the new laws, Mary Kowalksi, vice president of travel services at Anthony Travel, recommended that these students act soon to insure they receive their documents on time.

“We have been seeing more people coming in and asking about new passport applications,” Kowalski said. “It used to take four to six weeks to process a passport; now, it will probably take up to eight weeks.”

Sophomore Nicole Bernal, who’s traveling to Baja, Calif. for Spring Break, wasted no time in submitting her documents.

“I noticed my passport had expired before Christmas, and because I’m also traveling to Rome for the architecture program junior year, people told me I should get my passport renewed fast,” she said. “I sent off everything a week before Christmas break, and it took almost six weeks before I got it back.”

The experts at Anthony Travel recommend that even students who are going on cruises or driving across borders should still pay attention to the laws and insure that they have a renewed passport to carry with them in case of an emergency.

“We’re planning a lot of student spring break travel, including a cruise to Mexico, Belize and the Bahamas,” Carr said. “Though the cruise doesn’t require a passport, if there is an emergency and somebody people had to fly home, they won’t be able to re-enter easily without one.”

According to the U.S. Department of State, students who most recently renewed their passports at the age of 15 and below are only covered for five years before expiration, and will have to reapply for a new one for a fee of $97. However, students who last renewed their passports after the age of 16 only have to renew their passports each decade for a fee of $67.

Moreover, if somebody needs to expedite their passport renewal with a guarantee to receive it back after processing within three weeks, it will cost them an extra $60, plus roughly $30 to send it via express mail.

Fortunately, the Notre Dame post office is now accepting passport applications and is equipped with all the necessary resources to help students with international travel, so they don’t have to go to the trouble of visiting the passport agency downtown.

“We are an authorized passport acceptance agency, and we check to make sure that all of the paperwork is correct before forwarding them to the National Passport Processing Center,” said Ellen Bystrom, postmaster at the Notre Dame Post Office. “We also can take photos on site, and we recommend students make appointments between classes, but we also accept walk-ins.”

The Notre Dame Postal Office charges a $30 processing fee, and an extra $15 for photos. Customers seeking passport photos may not wear hats or headgear obscuring the hairline, nor dark or nonprescription glasses with tinted lenses.

Additionally, students will have to bring along with their application proof of citizenship, either using a previous passport or a certified copy of their birth certificate, a government issued photo ID such as a driver’s license or military ID and two checks or money orders – one to send to the Department of State and one for postal fees.

“It was fairly busy back in December, even though it’s only a fifteen-minute procedure,” Bernal said. “I’m relieved that I got it sooner, so I suggest that students get an appointment soon. They ask numerous questions including citizenship, place of birth, where you are going and why you are traveling there.”

Anthony Travel projects that over 75 percent of its Notre Dame customers have valid passports for travel, but should always be aware of changes to the border patrol regulations and have contingency plans in case something goes awry during their journeys.

“It’s always best to check with your travel professional,” Kowalski said, “and that’s why we’re here for the Notre Dame community.”