Articles Posted in Passports

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The Seattle Times reports today that the U.S. Passport Office in downtown Seattle will open its doors to the public on Saturday, March 12 from 9am to 3pm to encourage more people to apply for passports. Normally open by appointment only for expedited service or complex cases, the Seattle Passport Office is located at the Jackson Federal Building, 915 Second Ave., Suite 992. Usually, applicants can apply by mail or in person at post offices, city and county offices, or at Neighborhood Service Centers throughout Seattle. First time applicants over 16 must appear in person as must children with one or both parents. Applications and requirements can be found on the State Department’s website.

Some of the passport application issues we are seeing in our office in the last year include these three broad categories: foreign adoptions where the American adopting parents never completed the immigration and citizenship process after the children were brought into the U.S.; and parents who delayed registering the birth with a state and where the baby was born at home with the assistance of a midwife. In the former scenario, there can be serious problems getting a passport for someone over 18. In the second scenario, it seems the Passport Office focuses on needing solid evidence of the mother’s presence in the U.S. immediately before, during and after the child’s birth. A third issue is failure of U.S. citizen parents living abroad to file a “Report of Birth Abroad” at a U.S. consulate for their children born overseas.

Did you know that fewer Americans travel abroad than people from the U.K. or Canada? According to the U.S. Travel Industry Association, only 30% of Americans have passports compared to 60% of Canadians and 75% of the British. According to the U.S. Passport Office, almost 15 million U.S. passports were issued in 2010, of which 1.5 million were the new passport cards valid only for Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda (for land or sea travel only). While passport applications are up because of the Western Hemisphere Initiative (WHITI) requiring passports to re-enter from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and Bermuda, passport use by Americans is relatively low, as is international travel generally. A recent CNN post on “Why Americans Don’t Travel Abroad” notes that many Americans feel there is enough to do and see right here in the U.S., which is a vast country with many different geographies, cultures and ethnic groups to visit. However, if more people traveled abroad to see how people live in other countries, perhaps we would understand each other better and find that we have more in common than differences. While it’s easy (and cheaper) to say one can just visit Chinatown or Little India in your own back yard, or see the Mojave Desert, the Cascades, Appalachia or Santa Fe, it’s an entirely different experience to visit and meet the people of China’s deserts, India’s big cities or villages, climb the Himalayas or the Alps, converse with villagers in Mali, or swim with the fish in the Red Sea. Perhaps the discussions about immigration policy might be filed with less vitriol or “us and them” and more understanding or appreciation about what motivates people from distant lands to come to the U.S. for one reason or another. Passports lead to travel, which leads to knowledge and understanding of others.

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584383_united_states_passport.jpgImmigration enforcement legislation creates problems for U.S. citizens as well as for immigrants. Over the last few years, we have seen growth in our American citizen clientele because of new federal and state documentation burdens enacted under the guise of national security or to combat illegal immigration. The most common refrain we hear is: “I grew up in the U.S. I always thought I was an American but never had anything to show for it and I never needed the proof until now.” Ironically, we hear the same thing about the children of undocumented immigrants who have grown up in the U.S.; only now we are dealing with “undocumented Americans.”

Documentation burdens affecting American citizens include:

WHITI: WHITI stands for the Western Hemisphere International Travel Initiative. WHITI requires U.S. citizens to have one of these types of documents when returning from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda: passports, enhanced drivers’ licenses, military cards with travel orders, Merchant Marine Cards, I872 American Indian or Enhanced Tribal cards, Trusted Traveler Cards (see below), or in the case of children under 16, original birth certificates, evidence of birth recorded abroad, or naturalization certificates.

The number of Americans holding U.S. passports has been fairly low compared to other countries, but filings have substantially increased in the last two to three years as WHITI was fazed in. Now, more Americans need passports or one of the documents listed above to re-enter the U.S. from travel destinations not far from the U.S. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has a useful “Know Before You Go” brochure describing what documents are needed. Keep in mind that the cheaper Enhanced Drivers License only allows for reentry from specified countries, and only some states offer it. A U.S. Passport is more flexible and required for travel from other countries around the world. You can learn about Washington State’s Enhanced Drivers License here. To obtain a passport, see the U.S. Department of State’s website.
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