At the beginning of this month,  new passport rules went into effect for travel between the US and Canada,  Mexico and the Caribbean.  Before June 1st, you could have traveled to these countries with a birth certificate and a driver’s license. Now, you need a US passport or another approved document.

Why were these new passport rules necessary? Why isn’t it enough to be able to produce a valid driver’s license or state ID card to prove your identity, and a valid birth certificate to prove that you are a US citizen? Over on the Dual Citizenship blog, there’s a great post by Fred Burton, formerly the Deputy Chief of the Counter-Terrorism Division of the US State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, that explains the rationale behind the new rules.

According to Burton, the main problem with the old system was that driver’s licenses and birth certificates are relatively easy to fake and to obtain on the black market:

“Driver’s licenses are issued by each state, and the process of getting one differs greatly from state to state. Criminals clearly have figured out how to work the system to get fraudulent driver’s licenses. Some states make it easier to get licenses than others and people looking for fraudulent identification flock to those states. ..In addition to corrupt DMV employees and states that issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, an illegal industry has arisen devoted entirely to producing counterfeit identification documents, compounding the problem. Birth certificates are also relatively easy to obtain illegally.”

The RFID chips in passports, Enhanced Driver’s Licenses and other WHTI-compliant documents make these documents harder to forge. Additionally, border agents won’t have to spend as much time trying to memorize what each state’s licenses and birth certificates should look like, and will be able to spot suspicious documents more easily. That means fewer people entering the country who aren’t supposed to be here.

If you need a new passport, make sure to apply well in advance. Currently, applications take at least 6 weeks to process with regular processing, and at least 3 weeks with the government’s expedited service. If you need your passport in a hurry, a private passport expediting company can cut down on the processing time, reducing it to as little as 24 hours. You’ll also get professional service and assistance with your application.

Don’t wait-apply for your new passport today!