Sir Ronald Sanders
For years United States citizens have travelled into and out
of the Caribbean with no more identification documents than
a drives license. This will change between now and January
1, 2008 and will have an adverse impact on the regional tourism
It is the US government that is making the change, requiring
all US citizens to have valid passports to enter the US. Consequently,
they must have passports to travel out of the US.
On April 6, the US Departments of Homeland Security and State
announced The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative to secure
and expedite travel. Under the initiative, all US citizens
will be required to have a passport or other accepted secure
documents to enter or re-enter the US by January 1, 2008.
In the past, Caribbean nationals have been irritated by the
US requirement that they must have passports and visas to
enter the US, while US nationals enter Caribbean countries
on driver licences.
After 9/11, Caribbean and other non-US travellers became even
more irritated with travel into the US when the US Department
of Homeland Security required visitors to be fingerprinted
and photographs taken of their eyeballs at US ports of entry.
Many people saw this both as an intrusion on their privacy
and as a humiliation.
This feeling was exacerbated by the fact that US citizens
were whisked though immigration lines while visitors endured
lengthy periods waiting in line to be interviewed by immigration
Caribbean nationals have regarded the different treatment
accorded to them and to US nationals as a double standard.
They have recognised the right of the US and any other country
to apply its own immigration procedures, but they have argued
that these procedures should be reciprocal.
In other words, if the US required Caribbean nationals to
be in possession of passports and visas to enter the US, Caribbean
countries should equally require US nationals to have passports
and visas to enter Caribbean countries.
But economic necessity won the day over the personal affront
felt by Caribbean nationals.
Caribbean tourism relies a great deal on US tourists, and
since the vast majority of Americans do not have a passport
and can not be bothered to get one, Caribbean governments
were content to allow them to enter their countries on driver
Now, all of this has begun to change.
Anyone travelling into the US recently would have noticed
that US citizens are no longer being whisked through immigration
control at US ports of entry. Now, US citizens and residents
are being questioned as closely as foreigners although their
finger prints are not yet being taken nor are their eyeballs
The lines for US citizens and residents at US immigration
control are now as long as those for foreigners.
All of this flows from the extensive efforts by various departments
of the US government to strengthen homeland security following
the terrorist atrocities of 9/11.
The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004
(IRTPA, also known as the 9/11 Intelligence Bill), signed
into law on December 17, 2004, mandated that the Secretary
of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of
State, develop and implement a plan to require US citizens
and foreign nationals to present a passport, or other secure
document when entering the United States.
An official release from the US Department for Homeland Security
quotes Acting Under Secretary for Border and Transportation
Security, Randy Beardsworth, as saying: Our goal is
to strengthen border security and expedite entry into the
United States for US citizens and legitimate foreign visitors.
By ensuring that travellers possess secure documents, such
as the passport, Homeland Security will be able to conduct
more effective and efficient interviews at our borders.
The department did say that additional documents are also
being examined to determine their acceptability for travel.
However, such documents would have to establish the citizenship
and identity of the bearer, enable electronic data verification
and checking, and include significant security features.
The point is that US citizens and residents travelling on
documents such as drivers licences is now fast becoming
a thing of the past, and Caribbean tourism industry will be
affected by it.
There should not be an assumption that US Citizens will now
automatically apply for passports.
The reality is that only a comparative small number of US
citizens have passports, and these are business people or
those with higher incomes who travel on vacation to Europe,
Asia or countries outside of the Western Hemisphere.
Under the new rules, a Caribbean vacation cannot be spontaneous.
It will entail Americans being in possession of passports
or similar documents.
This is a reality that the tourism industry in the Caribbean
has to take account of now.
The industry should not expect the US public to know about
the requirements that they have passports by January
1, 2008 even though this is a stipulation of their own US
Department of Homeland Security. It is surprising how little
public attention has been given to this development by mainstream
media in the US.
A programme of education should be launched in the US with
travel agents and tour operators. And, national and regional
tourist offices based in the US should each start initiatives
of their own to educate the US public about the requirement
for passports and how to get them.
Undoubtedly, organisations such as the Caribbean Hotels Association
(CHA) and the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) are alert
to the necessity to launch such an education initiative in
the US. But, money will have to be invested in the initiative
from both the national and regional levels, and allocations
should be made for such monies now for the years 2006 and
Failure to do so will see January 1, 2008 arrive with a significant
reduction in the number of US tourists visiting the Caribbean.
The educational task will be difficult, but it is not impossible,
particularly if it is presented as exactly what it is: a US
government requirement of its own citizens to strengthen the
security arrangements of their own country.
The problem is overcoming a lifelong US habit of not needing
a passport to travel to the Caribbean.
It may be argued that the US government will educate its citizens
about the passport requirements and there is no need for the
Caribbean to do so. But, accepting this argument would be
The financial implications for the Caribbean tourism industry
of spontaneous vacations not occurring, or holidays being
cancelled for lack of a passport, are quite significant.
There will be a reduction in the numbers who visit the region
in the immediate period after the new passport requirements
are introduced on January 1, 2008; it will be worse if the
Caribbean does not launch an educational programme of its
own in the US.
The writer is a former Caribbean diplomat, now corporate executive,
who publishes widely on Small States in the global community.
Responses to: [email protected]