Tighter restrictions for travel making passports hot items 

As part of continued homeland security precautions, the U.S. Department of State is introducing new travel restrictions that will require more passengers to carry extensive documents.

Beginning Jan. 23, as part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, anyone flying into the United States from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, Bermuda or any Caribbean destination will have to present a valid passport, Air NEXUS card, U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner document or alien registration card.

Roxanne Hercules, spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said the restrictions could be expanded to land and sea travel by June 2009.

The initiative focuses on the western hemisphere because travelers are already required to have travel documents.

There are no new requirements for U.S. citizens traveling between U.S. territories such as Guam, Puerto Rico or American Samoa.

Hercules said the changes are an attempt to simplify and secure the necessary travel documents.

Travel into the United States, especially after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, has been under tight scrutiny to keep track of who is entering the nation’s borders.

Hercules and San Francisco International Airport spokesman Mike McCarron both said they do not anticipate travel delays and problems as long as people have the required documents.

The new requirements will result in more travelers applying for passports.

The time to get an appointment for a passport has already increased from one to three days to at least a week in most cases.

"We are finding that there is a rush of people trying to get passports who don’t have them now or that had them and didn’t realize they had expired," said DJ Dull-MacKenzie, manager of City Payment Center at San Francisco City Hall. The center handlesapplications for the Federal Passport Office.

The federal office, which is only in San Francisco and Los Angeles, does not supply regular passport.

Those two branches only serve travelers who need a passport within seven to 10 days or need to use their passport to get an international visa.

jgoldman@examiner.com

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