- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2006

U.S. citizens are finding it increasingly difficult to travel abroad because their passports are being rejected.

Passports have become more closely scrutinized in recent years by foreign officials who are finding reasons to enforce long-standing policies on travel documents, as the U.S. has cracked down on visitors since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

For many years, countries waived rules saying travelers could not enter if their passports expired within six months. But in the past five years, they have begun clamping down on this and other requirements.

“Travelers run into this all the time,” said Christopher Davis, chief executive of G3 Visas and Passports, a passport and visa expediting company, and the vice president of the National Association of Passport and Visa Services.

This week, he helped a family who discovered at the airport their child’s passport was invalid, even though almost two months remained until the expiration date. Air France refused to allow them to board the flight and the parents were told the child needed a new passport to fly.

In the past few years, A Briggs Passport and Visa Expeditors has seen an increase in the number of calls from people who had been denied boarding based on passport expiration dates.

“They have all these new things that they didn’t have to have five years ago and they are being enforced,” Mr. Davis said. “In turn, all those countries are making it more difficult for Americans to travel, because they are scrutinizing the documents much, much more.”

Stricter U.S. policies toward different countries, for example Brazil, mean more hassle for U.S. citizens entering those countries.

“Certain countries aren’t happy — they don’t feel it’s right to be penalized in that way,” said John Dinn, a travel documentation specialist with Travel Document Systems. The United States since the beginning of 2004 has required fingerprints and photographs of Brazilian nationals entering the United States, so Brazil now requires the same procedure for U.S. citizens.

“It’s reciprocal; if we give their people a hard time getting into our country, then they give us a hard time getting into their country,” Mr. Dinn said. “They have the same right to ask us these things, just like we have the right.”

Many countries, such as Ecuador, India, Israel and Thailand, require that a tourist’s passport have an expiration date six months beyond the end of the tourist’s stay.

In many countries that do not require visas to enter, travelers do not experience problems when they have four or five months left on their passport, even though the standard is six months. It is more likely to be enforced when just two months remain on the passport, Mr. Davis said. But a traveler doesn’t know ahead of time how the passport will be handled.

Often, travelers discover at the airport, either in the U.S. or standing in an airport overseas, that their passport isn’t valid for entry.

“The predominant reason that they request or require it is if you have an accident and end up in the hospital,” Mr. Davis said.

Travel specialists say there is a problematic legal difference between a tourist with correct status, who has a valid passport and visa, and a tourist who is “out of status” with an invalid visa or an expired passport. Depending on the country, the tourist might be jailed, deported or classified as an illegal alien.

“We always recommend that they have six months, and if they don’t want to, we recommend that they call the airline and see if they will let them board them,” Mr. Dinn said.

Airlines are required to pay steep fines if they allow tourists to arrive incorrectly documented.

“I would just take it as a matter of course — if my passport were expiring in the next few months then I should get another one,” said Angela Aggeler, spokeswoman with the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the State Department.

Another issue is the blank pages countries require for placing visas and stamps. Many people do not know that the three blank pages in the back of the passport are not for visa or passport stamps: they are used for changes by the U.S. government, although the U.S. is no longer amending passports. The government will begin issuing redesigned passports in August, according to the State Department.

“It is something that is overlooked,” Mr. Davis said. “People will forget to see if they have pages.”

Some embassies refuse to put anything on the pages, deporting a person before stamping the page. South Africa will not grant a visa unless the passport has two empty pages facing each other. “They are giving travelers a difficult time and are deporting some,” he said.

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