US passport official apologises

An apologetic official acknowledged Wednesday that the State Department failed to anticipate the flood of passport applications this year that resulted in long delays and disrupted summer travel plans for many Americans.

“No one is more aware than I am that in the past several months many travellers who applied for a passport did not receive their document in time for their planned travel. I deeply regret that,” Maura Harty, assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, told a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

She said the department had predicted that passport issuance would rise from 12.1 million last year to 16.2 million this year with the implementation in January of new national security rules requiring those returning by air from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda to present a passport. Instead, applications are expected to be near 18 million this year, and the normal six-week process for getting a passport ballooned to 12 weeks early this year.

“We failed to predict the record-setting compressed demand,” Harty said. “I do sincerely regret that we missed the mark on that number.”

To help solve the problem, he US has relaxed its passport rule for summer travel, through 30 September, 2007. This means that US citizens travelling to the Caribbean who have applied for, but have not yet received a passport, can now temporarily enter and depart the US by air with a government issued photo ID and official proof of application for a passport.

But travellers must remember they still have to comply with the Cayman Islands’ requirement for entry into this country.

Having checked out the requirements with the Cayman Islands’ Department of Immigration, DoT confirmed that US citizens travelling to the Cayman Islands must have either a valid US passport, or an original birth certificate (or a notarised copy), along with a government issued photo ID and copy of proof that they have applied for a US passport.

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