Jamaica’s tourism stakeholders prepare to meet 2007 deadline for US Passport requirement

MONTEGO BAY – A United States medical team is slated to visit Jamaica from January 13 to 22, where they will offer free healthcare to residents in communities throughout the island.

He told JIS News, that given the reprieve, the Ministry has been working through the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), the Foreign Affairs Ministry and related agencies, to ensure that tour operators, travel agents and other partners in the industry, were sensitized and ready.

He informed that these efforts would be sustained through the JTB’s ongoing sensitization program for tour operators, travel agents and other parties. “They are all aware of what will be happening and what we are looking at is how we are going to deal with it. With these ongoing discussions and sensitization programs, I think we are making sure that we will be ready when the time comes,” he stated.

In the meantime, Dr. McNeill said, the US State Department had been doing its own work to sensitize Americans as to what would happen come next January. “We are a little encouraged as we understand that there is an improved process for Americans to get their passports, which will make it a little easier and I think what we have to do now is to ensure that when the day comes, we are ready (and) all our partners are ready for the transition,” he told JIS News.

Last June, the US State Department and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), under which all travelers returning to the US from the Caribbean, Bermuda, Central and South America, would be required to show passports starting January 2006. Canada and Mexico were to come on board a year later.

The initiative is based on the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, and is designed to strengthen border security.

However, after representation was made on behalf of the region, the deadline was extended to allow all countries to come under the policy in 2007.

Minister McNeill said that the move to allow all countries to come on board that the same time had allayed initial fears that the inconvenience and expense of securing the new passports would motivate some potential travelers to opt for other destinations.

“Everybody is coming on board. We understand that after 9/11 things were going to change and the United States has put this requirement in place and we are going to have to live with it,” he pointed out, adding that it was possible that over the long-term, Americans would end up having their passports routinely like many other nationals.

“I think what we are more concerned about is the transition process for example for persons who have been traveling for years and then all of sudden they are going to need one. We have to ensure that they have a passport when they are ready to travel in January. I think our duty is to do the sensitization in the early part. Certainly, when it becomes a way of life, I don’t think it would be a problem,” Dr. McNeill noted.

Currently, WE nationals and citizens of some countries in the Western Hemisphere are not required to present a passport to enter or re-enter the US.

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