Will Passport Problems Cancel Your Travel Plans?

American employees whose upcoming assignments might include international travel should check their passports well ahead of when they’re supposed to go abroad. According to the New York Times, the State Department expects processing to get bogged down over the next two years and is urging travelers not to procrastinate if they need to renew their passports.

The expected delays stem largely from the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. That law, which took effect in 2007, required U.S. citizens to have passports in order to travel to all countries, including Canada and Mexico, whereas previously a driver’s license was sufficient for most travelers.

The new requirement resulted in a flood of passport requests from millions of Americans, and the government anticipates a deluge of renewal requests as all those passports approach their 10-year expiration dates. But the State Department is getting the word out early in an effort to avoid the type of backlog that occurred a decade ago when the law first took effect.

New Security Standards

Another factor that is expected to lead to a spike in passport requests over the next two years is the rollout of the REAL ID Act, which has a compliance deadline of Jan. 22, 2018. The law will require travelers flying domestically to present a driver’s license or identification card that meets new minimum security standards, otherwise they will need to provide an alternative form of identification—such as a passport—that is acceptable to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The State Department said it is already getting many requests for new passports from people who are unaware that the deadline for REAL ID compliance had recently been extended by two years to 2018.

Passports are essential documents when working or traveling overseas, which makes it imperative for employers to inform their expat employees about these potential delays. This is particularly important given that an increasing number of countries prohibit entry for anyone holding a passport with less than six months’ validity. 

Blank Pages Required

Besides checking to see how much time they have left before they need to renew, employees should identify how many blank pages they have in their passports. Some countries require travelers to have between two and four blank pages in their passports before granting them an entry visa. Some airlines also have similar requirements. 

The State Department’s Office of American Citizens Services and Crisis Management (ACS) has a that provides information for every country about the minimum timeframe needed for passport validity and the number of blank pages required upon entry. 

Interestingly, this isn’t the first passport-related issue to arise in 2016. As I discussed in a previous blog, a law that took effect Jan. 1 gives the State Department new powers to revoke or deny passports for delinquent taxpayers who owe more than $50,000 to the IRS. A watchdog group noted that the legislation poses particular risks to those who live and work overseas as the agency’s mailing systems are not designed to accommodate the different styles of international addresses, which can cause notices to be undeliverable.

Keeping passports in order may seem like a no brainer, but it’s still a good idea to notify employees about these developments and avoid glitches that could disrupt travel or prevent key personnel from making it to overseas locations where they’re needed.

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