Minister tackles passport issue

Minister for Tourism Charles Clifford has announced that recent meetings in Capitol Hill with key US lawmakers have resulted in a show of support to review and defer the US citizen passport requirement set for 1 January next.

Mr. Clifford, speaking in the Legislative Assembly on Monday, said he had recently attended a series of meetings with representatives of the US Congress on the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), a proposed US policy that requires a passport or other accepted document for all US citizens travelling within the Western Hemisphere by 1 January 2008.

The US has proposed a phased-in approach for different regions, with the implementation date for the Caribbean region currently standing at 1 January 2007.

The Minister participated in talks on Capitol Hill with key bipartisan senate and congressional representatives, while Acting Permanent Secretary Gloria McField-Nixon attended meetings at the Florida House with the Chiefs of Staff for numerous Congressmen from the State of Florida.

‘All of our meetings confirmed that there is strong bi-partisan support to review and defer the implementation date of the WHTI in favour of a consistent roll out date for air, sea and land travel later than 1 January 2007.

‘While no definitive answer could be provided, the representatives were particularly sensitive to the issues this created for Caribbean destinations as well as the cruise industry which would be negatively impacted by the proposal in its current form.’

Mr. Clifford asserted that in the interim, the Cayman Islands continues to vigilantly respond on all fronts. ‘The Department of Tourism is working with the Immigration Department and the cruise lines to continue to monitor the threat for the Cayman Islands’ visitor arrivals. The DoT advises that for stay over visitors, the clear majority, approximately 80 per cent, currently travel on passports.’

However, Mr. Clifford said that while it is still unconfirmed, it is anticipated that the percentage of non-passport holders is significantly higher for cruise arrivals.

‘Clearly any policy which negatively impacts arrivals by air or sea or which acts as a disincentive to travel to the region due to perceived additional obstacles and burdens is an unacceptable risk. In the interim, the DoT continues to advise potential US visitors through points of sale such as travel agents and websites, that a passport will be required for future travel to the region.’

The WHTI arises from a 2004 US Intelligence Reform Bill.

‘As the public may recall, a year ago I first tackled this issue by writing to the US Secretary of State and members of the US Congress and working with the Caribbean Tourism Organisation and its member countries to lobby on this issue. These efforts resulted in a one year deferral from the initial 1 January 2006 implementation date for the Caribbean region.’

Mr. Clifford noted that the 1 January 2007 implementation date is problematic for a number of very critical reasons, including:

It creates an un-level playing field as the implementation date for travel by land to Canada and Mexico is 1 January 2008;

The date places Caribbean states versus other drive-to destinations such as Canada and Mexico, at a significant disadvantage as islands are totally dependant on air and sea transport as the sole means of access;

The proposed date does not give adequate time for the travel industry to educate travellers and if the phase-in occurs, visitors that have already booked their travel for 2007 could incur unexpected and significantly increased costs.

This could have a very profound impact on family based travel as, for example, a family of four would require four individual passports as the policy requires passports for children as well.

Mr. Clifford noted, ‘Given the significant threat this policy poses, the Cayman Islands has joined with the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, the International Council of Cruise Lines and other leading travel organisations in opposing the phase-in proposal and supporting a common implementation deadline of 1 January 2008 or later.’

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