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Passport rules to get stricter

FARMINGTON — As of late 2007 it became increasingly harder to leave the U.S. and travel to another country, even our neighboring Mexico and Canada. Come June 1 it will be increasingly difficult to get back into the U.S. from anywhere else in the world.

To help citizens with their travel plans, counties across the country opened their doors Saturday for National Passport Day. It was a chance for citizens to have easier access to passport offices on a Saturday and assure the necessary documentation is in place before the summer travel season arrives.

Susan Stacey and Kimmy Mesey were manning the St. Francois County Circuit Clerk’s Office on Saturday afternoon. The two ladies said they had processed paperwork for 15 passports, and agreed that was a good turnout based on the volume of passports processed in a regular week by the office.

Circuit Clerk Vicki J. Weible opted to participate in the national passport drive. She had joined other office staffers earlier in the day. The office was open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“We’re being told it will take about three to four weeks now,” Mesey said of the turnaround time to have a passport processed by the federal Department of State office. Just as when the laws tightened in 2007, a backlog of passport applications is anticipated as June 1 approaches. The program requiring U.S. citizens to present passport books, passport cards or other approved U.S. travel documents to re-enter the country from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda is called the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

Anyone who did not make the national passport drive, and who does not have a valid passport, can obtain the documentation by applying at the county circuit clerk’s office on the first floor of the courthouse in Farmington from Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. From now until June 1, the office will remain open during lunch hour to better serve customers.

Required documentation to get a passport includes a state-issued birth certificate with a raised seal and a state-issued driver’s license or ID. If the citizen has a driver’s license, it must be valid at the time application for a passport is made.

There are two different forms of U.S.-approved travel documents. A passport card is available for a $25 processing fee and $20 passport cost for citizens age 16 and over, or $10 passport cost for any citizen under age 16. The passport card may only be used for re-entry into the United States at land borders and sea ports-of-entry when traveling from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda. Passport cards may not be used for air travel.

Passport books can be purchased for a $25 processing fee and $75 passport cost for citizens age 16 and over, or $60 passport cost for citizens under age 16. A passport book can be used for any type of international travel.

An expedited service is available for anyone requiring a passport before the normal three- to four-week processing time. Cost to expedite a passport is an additional $60 per application. To help assure immediate delivery, the citizen can also pay an additional $14.85 for overnight return delivery service. Expedited service is only available for passport books at this time.

Mesey said she is really encouraging people to move fast on applying for a passport book or card because of the anticipated flood of applications in late April and May.

“People were appreciative that we were open today,” Mesey added.

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