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U.S. Passport Relief May Come Too Late for Many

Substantial delays in the passport system have created havoc for tens of thousands of Americans hoping to travel internationally this summer.

The State Department has temporarily suspended its requirement that all Americans must have a passport to travel by air to and from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda.

As a result, many Americans who had been planning summer vacations abroad — but hadn't yet received their passports — might soon be able to breathe a sigh of relief.


But the State Department's sudden about-face might come too late for many travelers.

As part of new post-9/11 border security measures, the Bush administration implemented the new passport requirement, which began on on Jan. 23 of this year.

Since then, a flood of applications has created a huge backlog and substantial delays. The wait for regular applications went from six weeks to 10 or more; the wait for expedited applications, which costs an extra $60, went from two weeks to four or longer.

Some of the hundreds of people waiting for hours at passport centers in a desperate attempt to get the documents before leaving the country in the coming week hadn't heard the news of the rules change until they arrived.

For others, like high school teacher Eva Schott of Cincinnati, the changes regarding the Caribbean and North America don't help — they still need passports to travel to Europe, Asia, or elsewhere.


"I'm taking, hopefully, a group of 29 kids to Germany on Tuesday," Schott said, "and I put my passport in for renewal in March.

"And I found out from my congressman yesterday that they haven't even opened my application; the envelope hasn't even been opened."

Schott says she left Cincinnati at 5 a.m. Friday. After a five-hour drive, she had already been waiting in line a couple of hours when we spoke.

A passport office official helping those waiting in line says that processing should go more quickly now that those traveling to Mexico, the Caribbean and Canada this summer don't need passports. But the wait was still likely to be several hours long.

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