Passport issue uncertain

The Cayman Islands and the rest of the Caribbean will probably not know if the United States will delay the implementation of requiring passports for all if its citizens re-entering the country until late this year.

The requirement is scheduled to take effect on 8 January 2007. The US State Department recently extended the date by one week so as not to disrupt holiday travel this year.

Cayman’s Minister of Tourism Charles Clifford said that he is still hopeful that lobbying efforts to extend the implementation date would be successful.

‘The general feedback we’ve gotten (from the lobbying efforts) is positive,’ Mr. Clifford said, noting that the International Council of Cruise Lines has lobbied the issue aggressively, with some help in the Capitol.

‘Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) is particularly sympathetic to the situation in the Caribbean,’ he said.

The US will implement the new passport requirements as part of the Homeland Security measures to tighten the security of its borders.

Because the United States is facing key Congressional and Senate elections in the mid-term of President George Bush’s current term in November, and Homeland Security will likely be a major campaign issue, any decision to extend the implementation date is unlikely to happen soon.

‘We understand it probably won’t come until after the mid-term elections,’ he said.

While Mr. Clifford remains optimistic the passport requirement will be delayed, the US State Department seems to be preparing as if it will not.

An article published in the Wall Street Journal last week stated the US government says it is going ahead with the new requirement as of 8 January and quoted Frank Moss, the head passport official at the State Department, saying, ‘If you’re going to the Caribbean next February or March, you’d better start worrying about a passport this fall.’

Currently, American citizens can re-enter the United States with documentation other than a passport. The Wall Street Journal article stated only 25 per cent of Americans currently have passports.

Because the new regulation will require passports from everyone – including US citizens – entering the country through airports or seaports, Cayman’s tourism industry could be significantly impacted.

Generally, about 80 per cent of Cayman’s stay-over tourism comes from the United States. The majority of Cayman’s 1.8 million or so cruise passengers also come from the US.

Mr. Clifford, however, is not too worried about the effect of the new passport regulations on stay-over tourism.

‘Our (stay-over) market is upscale and these people travel a lot and tend to have passports,’ he said.

‘The cruise passenger situation is somewhat different, because a majority of passengers do not travel on passports.’

A survey conducted by the International Council of Cruise Liners found that about 60 per cent of American cruise passengers do not currently have passports.

Mr. Clifford said that unless there is an extension in the implementation of the new regulation to allow more time for Americans to obtain passports, there could be a tremendous impact on the cruise lines and on the Caribbean tourism industry.

‘Without the cruise lines, the Caribbean (tourism industry) wouldn’t be what it is today,’ Mr. Clifford said, noting that the situation worked both ways.

‘(The Caribbean) is the bread and butter of the cruise industry.’

Mr. Clifford said the question of whether the new regulations would be implemented on schedule was creating ‘a very uncertain situation for everyone concerned.’

The decision, however, is in the hands of the American policymakers.

‘We’ve decided the best thing to do is go ahead with our public education campaign and encourage US citizens to get passports,’ he said.

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