Happy New Year from PassportInfo.com! We’re ringing in 2017 by taking a look at the most important passport news of 2016.
2015 was a major year for passport news — the State Department stopped adding extra pages to passports, and started revoking passports for delinquent taxes — but 2016 had its share of changes and surprises! Follow along with us as we count down the top five US passport stories of the year.
5. Passport Seizures at the Rio Olympics
This past summer, the US men’s swimming team had the news buzzing. This happens every time there is a Summer Olympics, but this time, it wasn’t just about Michael Phelps’ impressive haul of medals! Ryan Lochte and several other teammates ran into trouble with Brazilian authorities after they vandalized a Rio gas station. They introduced Olympics fans around the world to a new phrase: “passport seizure.” Brazilian authorities confiscated the swimmers’ passports and held them so that they couldn’t leave the country until the situation was resolved. The passports were returned after the swimmers paid fines to make restitution for their actions.
The US swimmers were not the only ones who had their passports seized during the Rio games. Nine Australian athletes also had their passports temporarily seized for the crime of sneaking in to a basketball game. Their passports were quickly returned, but the Irish Olympic delegation was not nearly so lucky. Several members of the Irish Olympic Committee were implicated in a ticketing fraud scandal during the last days of the games. This was a serious offense — far worse than the US swimmers’ drunken mischief — and some of the Irish officials spent months in Brazil. One of the Irishmen only just got home to Dublin in time for Christmas!
4. REAL ID Deadline Set for 2018
We’ve been talking about REAL ID for a long time — which is no surprise, since the REAL ID Act was passed by Congress back in 2005! The REAL ID Act set federal standards for state-issued identification cards like driver’s licenses. When the act is fully implemented, you’ll need to have a REAL ID-certified identification card in order to go through security at US airports… even for domestic flights!
Although the REAL ID Act has been around for more than a decade, the federal government has kept pushing back the deadline. Even though the deadline has been extended several times, nine states have still not complied with the guidelines.
The big news of 2016 was that the Department of Homeland Security finally put their foot down. This past January, they announced a firm deadline — REAL ID will go into full effect in January 2018.
They weren’t joking — as of this week, warning signs have appeared in US airports to alert travelers of the January 22, 2018 deadline. Starting next year on January 22, travelers from the following states won’t be able to use their driver’s licenses as ID when they fly:
- South Carolina
The good news is that if you have a valid passport book or passport card, you are all set! Passport books and cards are the gold standard of REAL ID, no matter what state you call home.
3. Will Trump’s Election Cause a Passport Rush?
Our most-shared article this year concerned the election of Donald Trump, and whether it would cause a rush on passports. We’ve checked with our friends in the passport expediting industry, and so far, they haven’t reported a big increase in passport applications since the election. However, some US citizens would be wise to apply for passports now, before a new Secretary of State is appointed by the president.
The travelers most vulnerable to changes in State Department policy are transgendered people. In 2010, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it much easier for transgendered people to get passports with the appropriate gender marker. Previously, applicants had to produce letters from their doctor that certified that they had either completed medical gender transition, or were in the process of undergoing a full sex change. Secretary Clinton changed the rule. Now, as long as a transgendered applicant is getting some form of medical therapy to change their gender, such as hormone treatments, they can be issued a passport with their preferred gender marker. As full surgical transition is expensive and difficult, this allows far more people to get official ID with their appropriate gender shown. Many LGBT activists are concerned that the incoming administration may revoke this rule, or make it even harder for transgender people to get passports.
2. Second Valid Passports Now Valid Four Years
Hands down, this was the best passport news of the year, especially for frequent travelers!
The US government allows select travelers to hold two valid passports at once. This is used when a traveler has previously visited Israel and now needs to travel to a country like Iran or Sudan that blocks travelers who have Israel stamps in their passport. It’s also used for people who travel with great frequency, who need to get a visa for a future trip at the same time that they are doing other international travel. These travelers are able to apply for a second valid passport with a limited validity.
Up until this past summer, second valid passports were always issued with a two year validity. With so many countries enforcing the six month rule, this means that the second passport was only useful for 18 months! But on June 2, 2016, the State Department announced that they would immediately begin issuing second valid passports with a four year validity.
1. No Glasses in Passport Photos
Thus far, the stories we’ve covered only impact a small portion of the US population. Not many of us are ever going to experience a passport seizure, thank goodness! The REAL ID enforcement will only cause issues for residents of 9 states, while the other 41 and the District of Columbia are able to get REAL ID driver’s license. But with 64% of the adult US population needing vision correction, the most important passport news of the year is that you can no longer wear glasses in passport photos!
In September, the State Department announced that glasses would no longer be acceptable in US passport photos. This rule went into effect on November 1, 2016. If you are in that majority of Americans who have glasses, you’ll need to take them off before you pose for your next passport photo!
Why did they stop allowing glasses in passport photos? Glasses have always been a concern in passport photos. Passport photos were frequently rejected because of glare on the lenses, or because the frame blocked too much of the face. Glasses also make it more difficult for biometric programs to take measurements of the face. The simple solution to both issues is to not allow anyone to wear glasses in their passport photo!
Thanks for spending time with us in 2016! Keep checking back — we’ll be bringing you the hottest passport news every week of 2017!