May 28, 2009 – V.I. residents and visitors with U.S. citizenship will still be able to travel back and forth to the mainland from the U.S. Virgin Islands without a passport if they have identification such as a driver's license, but changes are afoot for U.S. citizens arriving from other destinations.
The latest phase of the Hemisphere Travel Initiative mandates that passports or passport cards are needed to get back into the country when traveling by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and Caribbean countries. The new rule, implemented by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, goes in affect Monday.
"This is the final phase in the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and as people gear up for their summer travel we certainly don't want anyone to be caught off-guard by these new requirements," Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis said in a press release issued Thursday.
The need for passports when traveling by air was implemented in January 2007 and there is no change in that requirement. The passport cards apply only to land and sea travel.
The new rule applies only to U.S. citizens returning to the United States, and Customs and Border Protection spokesman Joanne Ferreira said from Washington, D.C. that travelers should check with the country where they're traveling to determine entry requirements.
"They may still require a passport," she said.
As for U.S. citizens returning to the Virgin Islands from the nearby British Virgin Islands, Ferreira said they will need a passport or passport card to get back in to the territory.
However, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website, U.S. citizen children younger than 16 arriving by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean need only present proof of citizenship. Proof includes an original or copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, a Naturalization Certificate, or a Canadian Citizenship Card.
No one answered the phone at the BVI Immigration office to determine what their requirements are for entry, but the BVI's official tourism website indicates that a passport is necessary for U.S. citizens.
Urging residents with travel plans not to delay getting their passport, Francis said it takes six to eight weeks to get a passport.
The passport card costs $45 for people 16 and older and $35 for those younger than 16. A passport costs $100 for people 16 and older and $85 for those younger than 16.
The new requirements are fallout from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
"CBPs mission is to protect our borders, according to Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Jayson P. Ahern. "WHTI implements a key 9-11 Commission recommendation by requiring secure travel documents while facilitating entry. We will be practical and flexible in implementing WHTI using the same informed compliance approach that proved successful during other major changes at our borders over the last two years."
To apply for a passport, U.S. citizens will need a completed passport or passport renewal application, which is available at the lieutenant governor's office or online at www.ltg.gov.vi, proof of citizenship, proof of identity, two 2-inch by 2-inch photos, and associated fees. Additional requirements apply for children.
Those interested can call the Passport Division at 774-4024 on St. Thomas/St. John and 773-6449 on St. Croix.
Further information on the WHTI and a list of other accepted travel documents and exceptions to the new passport requirements can be found by visiting the government website. .
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