It’s time for a field tripto the passport office (Editorial)

By the end of the year, everyone flying to the U.S. will need a passport

Here’s a website every HR professional needs to know about: It’s the Government of Canada’s website for passport applications, and with the United States making it more difficult for Canadians to cross the border, it might be one site HR should bookmark.

Trade between Canada and the U.S. amounts to more than $1.5 billion a day, and with that comes the need for Canadian business people to journey south. Until now that’s been easy, but the U.S. has passed legislation requiring everyone — Canadians included — to have passports if they hope to enter the United States. By the end of the year the passport requirement will be in effect for anyone travelling by air or sea, and as of Jan. 1, 2008, passports will be required by travellers entering at land crossings.

This is all in response to U.S. concerns about terrorists. The value of the passport requirement is debatable considering the Sept. 11 terrorists had their papers in order, but there’s no use making that argument to American legislators who are big on empty gestures in the War on Terror.

There’s some talk about the creation of Canadian ID cards that will be accepted as alternatives — at half the cost of obtaining a passport — but what’s the point? Once you have to fill out the forms and organize the paperwork, why not pay a few extra dollars for a document that will let you travel anywhere. It costs $87 to get a passport and they’re valid for five years. U.S. passports are valid for 10 years and Canada might want to adopt the longer time frame to save everyone the renewal hassles.

Passport applicants also need a “guarantor” — someone to vouch for the fact statements on a passport application are true. I’ve never fully understood this requirement. It seems that being a citizen should be all you need to prove. There’s a list of professionals, from lawyers to veterinarians to dentists, who can be guarantors if they’ve known the applicant well enough for two years. (HR professionals and journalists are apparently not trustworthy enough to make the guarantor list, but you can rest assured that vets are screening out terrorists and other undesirables.)

So how many Canadians are without a passport? Approximately one-half. And that means a sizeable chunk of an employer’s workforce will be unable to travel to the U.S. in the near future. Businesses are right to worry about the impact the new U.S. requirements will have on work-related travel between the two countries.

Depending on the business, the need to send someone to the U.S. can come up at any time. HR departments would be wise to ensure staff can enter the U.S. as needed. So, bite the bullet, load staff onto buses and take everyone to the passport office to get their documents. (You can do it by mail, too, so pass out the stamps.)

It takes about 10 working days when you apply at an office, and 20 through the mail. But with millions of Canadians suddenly needing passports these wait times are bound to skyrocket. So get your staff organized if you want to beat the crunch.

And while you’re at it check everyone for the sniffles. The latest word from the U.S. is that travellers who “look ill” can be expected to be detained under new quarantine regulations designed to prevent the spread of the bird flu.

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