WHTI – What Happened Ten Years Ago?

WHTI - the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative

Do you know what the acronym “WHTI” stands for?  It’s not the latest trending hashtag on Twitter, but if you keep up with passport-related news, you’ve probably seen the letters “WHTI” quite a few times recently!

WHTI stands for “Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.”   You’ve probably been hearing a lot about it recently because it is about to turn ten years old!  The initiative went into effect on January 23, 2007.  It had major effects on US passports then, and ten years later, it’s having big impacts on passport processing now.

What is the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative?

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative is a US government plan that was crafted by the US Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security.  It was based on recommendations from the 9/11 Commission and subsequent anti-terrorism legislation.

In a nutshell, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative set rules for what travel documents are needed in order to enter the United States. Prior to the implementation of WHTI, US citizens could travel into and out of Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean without carrying a passport. That all changed in 2007.

What are the WHTI rules?

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative is specifically about what documents you need to enter the United States. Under the WHTI, if you are flying into the United States, you must have a valid passport book. It doesn’t matter where you are coming from. If you are entering by air, you have to have a passport!

If you are answering United States by land or sea from Canada. Mexico, or certain Caribbean destinations, you can use a passport book, passport card, trusted traveler card, or enhanced driver’s license.

The WHTI is a US law, and does not dictate what documents are needed to enter the other countries in the Western Hemisphere.  However, nations such as Mexico have become more stringent in requiring passports when US citizens enter in response to the initiative.

What impact does the WHTI have on passport processing?

WHTI and passport application surge in 2017Ten years ago, the first phase of WHTI went into effect on January 23, 2007. On that date, it became law that all travelers entering the US by air had to have a valid passport book. Suddenly, thousands and thousands of travelers who had plans to go to Mexico or the Caribbean for spring break discovered that they needed a passport in a hurry! Passport agencies were flooded with applications for new passports. Passport expediting services also were inundated with requests from travelers who were in a rush to get a passport before their trip. The State Department saw more than 18 million applications for passports that year, compared to 12 million in 2006 and 10 million in 2005.  Prior to 2005, the State Department had never issued more than 8 or 9 million passports in a single year.

You might be wondering what this history has to do with passport processing today.  Here’s the thing: US passports are issued with a 10 year validity.  That means that every one of those 18 million passports issued in 2007 will expire this year!  Add that to the steady increase in first time passport applications that the State Department has seen every year.  We’re set to see a record breaking number of passports issued this year!

The good news is that the State Department has been anticipating this year’s onslaught of passport applications.  For the last two years, they’ve run media campaigns urging travelers to apply for passport renewals early.  They’ve also added staff at many regional passport agencies, and new Passport Acceptance Facilities have opened.

Apply for expedited US passport renewals

Are there other reasons for a 2017 passport surge?

WHTI isn’t the only reason we can expect a record number of passport applications in 2017.  Another anti-terrorism law will  increase the number of people who find themselves needing passports this year.  The REAL ID Act, which sets federal standards for identification, will go into full effect on January 22, 2018.  Anyone who doesn’t have a driver’s license that is REAL ID-certified will need to show a passport in order to be allowed to board a domestic flight.  As of right now, nine states still have not brought their driver’s licenses into compliance with the federal rules.  That means that residents of Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Washington are going to need passport books or passport cards just to fly from one state to another!  There’s no question that this will add to the growing avalanche of passport applications.

If you need a passport, what should you do?

  • Check your passport expiration date. Go on, go check it right now!  Are you one of the many US citizens who needs to renew their passport this year?
  • Apply for your passport early.  It’s very likely that passport processing times may be extended this year.  If you need to get a passport for your first trip out of the US, apply for your passport as soon as you start to make your travel plans.  If you have a passport that is running out of validity, submit your renewal request early.  (Remember, it’s always a good idea to keep at least six months of validity on your passport, because many countries won’t let you enter if your passport is expiring soon.)
  • Need your passport quickly? Use a passport expediting service.  This is not the year to cross your fingers and hope that your passport will arrive in the mail in time for your trip!  A reputable passport expediting service like RushMyPassport.com can get you a passport in as little as 24 hours!  Yes, you’ll pay a bit for the service, but it’s worth it for the peace of mind and the certainty that you’ll be able to go on your trip!


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