Over the past several months, many U.S. travelers have encountered substantial delays in obtaining passports as a result of new rules imposing passport requirements for North American travel, for national security reasons. Some have missed important trips as a result. In response, the State Department has relaxed the rules temporarily. Assistant Secretary of State Maura Harty, who oversees passports for U.S. citizens, recently acknowledged the problem: “Over the past several months, many travelers who applied for a passport did not receive their document in time for their planned travel. I deeply regret that. I accept complete responsibility for this.”

A Department statement noted that “[w]e are aware that some travelers have not been able to obtain passports because of longer processing times caused by record-setting demand. Accordingly, we’re allowing flexibility because we are hearing about more cases of Americans missing flights. As a service organization dedicated to helping Americans, we cannot let this happen.”

U.S. citizens traveling to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda who have applied for but not yet received passports can temporarily enter and depart from the U.S. by air with a government-issued photo identification and Department of State official proof of application for a passport through Sept. 30, 2007. U.S. citizens who take advantage of this accommodation will need to present the official proof of passport application to air carriers and to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at air ports of entry. Such individuals may be subject to secondary inspection.

Travelers who have not applied for passports should plan 10 to 12 weeks for standard passport processing and two to three weeks for expedited processing, the Department said. Details are available at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_3254.html