Passport applications on the rise

Less than a month after Congress finalized a law requiring travelers to possess a valid passport when they enter the U.S. by aircraft, the State Dept. recorded a spike in the number of people applying for passports.

"In November 2005 we processed over 640,000 applications," a State Dept. spokeswoman said. "In November 2006, we processed 1.1 million. That was a 67% increase."

Final figures are not yet available for December, but the spokeswoman said she expected the year-over-year increase in applications for the month to surpass November.

Travelers are racing to obtain passports because under the new law, airline passengers will be required to have passports in order to travel from other countries in the Western Hemisphere to the U.S., starting Jan. 23. By June 2009, land and sea travelers will also need passports.

News reports have alerted consumers of the new passport rules, but so has the travel industry. The Travel Industry Association and the Travel Business Roundtable in December launched a Web site, www.getapassportnow.com, to provide an information source for travelers seeking help on obtaining a passport.

The fact that so many more people applied for passports in November indicated travelers "are getting the message, which is great," the State Dept. spokeswoman said.

But even without the new passport regulations, State Dept. figures showed that the government has steadily issued an increasing number of passports over the past several years.

For instance, by Sept. 30, the end of the 2006 fiscal year, it issued 12.1 million passports, up 20% from the number of passports it issued in 2005. The 2005 figure in turn was up from 2004, when 8.8 million passports were issued. On average, the State Dept. has issued about 6.2 million passports a year since 2000.

About 72 million Americans have valid passports, the State Dept. said.

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