Caribbean seeks US passport delay

Caribbean tourism officials are pushing for an
additional extension to the implementation date of the United States Western
Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI).The WHTI, which is due to take effect on Jan. 1, 2007, will make it mandatory for
all Americans returning to the United States from the Caribbean and other countries
in the Western Hemisphere to have a passport to enter the country.

Regional tourism officials, working through the Caribbean Community Council for
Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) and Caribbean ambassadors in Washington,
D.C., successfully argued against the original implementation date of Jan. 1, 2006,
saying it put the region at a disadvantage since Americans returning from Mexico and
Canada by air would not need a passport before Jan. 1, 2007. Those returning from
the two U.S. border countries by land have been given an additional year, and will
require a passport by Jan. 1, 2008.

But, Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism
Organization (CTO), said that the region would still be at a disadvantage if the
passport law were enforced starting Jan. 1, 2007.

Mr. Vanderpool-Wallace said regional tourism officials have been meeting with senior
U.S. officials in the Caribbean who have agreed to press the Caribbean’s case in
Washington, D.C.

“The reason for a further postponement must be that the pick up of new passports by
U.S. citizens has been nowhere near the numbers that we would like to see,” he told
journalist gathered here for the closing of Caribbean Week 2006.

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“We recognize that we have an added problem which is that so many people have been
so accustomed for so long to waking in the morning and deciding to go to the
Caribbean because they didn’t need a passport, that there has to be an extensive
campaign to let a lot more people know about this new requirement,” he added.

The CTO secretary general said the October date by which the U.S. government
intended to begin its educational campaign was too late for the Caribbean.

In the meantime, while pushing for a postponement of the implementation date, the
Caribbean is undertaking its own educational campaign, advising Americans of the
importance of getting a passport and how to go about getting one, Mr.
Vanderpool-Wallace said.

As part of the educational campaign, the CTO was able to get the assistance of The
New York Times, which is running a series of advertisements at its own expense. CTO
also secured the cooperation of the United States Postal Service (USPS), which set
up a booth at the Caribbean Week 2006 Fair, to facilitate passport applications. The
USPS will also be present at other such CTO public events across the United States.
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