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Proposed passport fee hikes draw ire

Proposed passport fee hikes draw ire

Credit: CNN

All of the increased security and the anti-fraud measures added to passports in recent years come at a cost, officials say.

by A. Pawlowski, CNN

azfamily.com

Posted on March 4, 2010 at 8:30 PM

WSAHINGTON -- Get ready to open your wallet a little wider to satisfy your travel bug: It may soon cost more to apply for a new U.S. passport or renew an old one, and the news is not sitting well with some lawmakers.

The State Department is proposing fee hikes that would require adults applying for their first passport book to pay $135 -- a 35 percent increase from the current $100 fee.

(The cost of the wallet-size passport card, which Americans can use on certain trips closer to home, would rise from $45 to $55 for first-time applicants.)

Want to add more visa pages to your passport book? It's free now, but you would have to shell out $82 under the proposed fee schedule.

The renewal fee for passport books would rise to $110 -- up from the current $75.

There's even a new fee if you'd like to formally renounce your U.S. citizenship -- it costs nothing now, but the price tag would be $450 if the proposal is approved.

Officials recommended the hikes after a study found the current fee structure wasn't covering the government's costs for the services, the State Department said in the proposal outlined in the Federal Register.

All of the increased security and the anti-fraud measures added to passports in recent years come at a cost, said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Passport Services Brenda Sprague during a news briefing at the State Department on Wednesday.

"New technologies for use in our U.S. passport books and cards must be an ongoing priority if we are to keep one step ahead of the resourceful and technologically savvy criminals, terrorist groups, and subversive elements bent on doing our nation harm," Sprague said.

"The cost of the passport book [also] includes the cost of maintaining our presence overseas to assist American citizens," she added.

A 'burden' for travelers?
But two lawmakers from New York -- a state where cross-border travel with Canada is an important part of the economy -- are expressing concern over the proposed changes.

Rep. Chris Lee, R-New York, last week sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her to scrap the plan.

"These fee increases could not come at a worse time," Lee wrote, citing regulations put in place last year that require Americans to show passports when returning to the U.S. from Canada and which Lee said have "exacted a heavy toll on trade and tourism at U.S.-Canada border regions."

The fee increase would only "further burden American travelers," Lee wrote.

Meanwhile, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-New York, is urging the public to voice opposition to the proposed fee hikes.

"We need to literally and figuratively build bridges that encourage cross border tourism, commerce and economic opportunity and this move would do just the opposite," Higgins said in a statement.

The State Department is concerned about any impact on travel the fees might have, Sprague said.

"Nevertheless, we have to cover our costs," she added.

There is also concern about the proposal on the Canadian side of the border, where newspapers have greeted the news with headlines such as "Higher U.S. passport fees could put a damper on local tourism."

"It's a total surprise, and under the circumstances, I'm rather shocked," Niagara Falls Tourism chair Wayne Thomson told The Toronto Star.

"It's very difficult to get our American visitors across the border for so many reasons right now. This is certainly not good news for people in the U.S. who may not be able to afford a passport and it's certainly not good news for tourism destinations."

The State Department intends to implement the proposed fee hikes "as soon as practicable" after it considers feedback from the public, but Sprague said the fees probably would not go into effect before April. You can weigh in and submit your comments via an online form until March 11.

You also may want to apply for or renew your passport now. The State Department is anticipating that there might be a rush of passport applications from people trying to beat any possible fee hikes and it's ready to handle it, Sprague said.

This article is courtesy of CNN.

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