Cant Leave Home Without It

February 19, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — With Michigan being a regular trading partner with Mexico and Canada, more than a few local business travelers are going to need a passport.

One is already needed to travel to either country by air, a regulation that went into effect about a month ago, and it’s likely one will also be needed next year for travel by car or train as the federal government tries to tighten border security.

The new regulation has already sent more people to post offices in the city and to the clerk’s office in City Hall seeking a passport.

“It’s been much busier. We saw it pick up several months ago. I think there has been a lot of conversation about the changes that were pending and so we have seen a substantial increase in passports for several months,” said Gina Haisma, USPS customer relations coordinator.

“I would say that in the last month it has picked up more so.”

About a year ago, the main post office began processing applications on Saturdays as an addition to its weekday service, with 30 to 50 passports being processed every Saturday. But over the past month, Haisma said the Saturday number has risen to an average of 75.

The city is handling more applications, too.

“It’s picked up. I have two key people that handle passports and both have said they’ve noticed a significant increase in telephone calls regarding passports and the numbers have gone up,” said City Clerk Terri Hegarty.

“We used to average probably from one to three applications per day, and now we’re up to per day. So, yes, we’ve seen a significant increase in applications.”

The recent jump in local passport applications is being credited to the traditional exodus that occurs during spring break, not to a resurgent economy that has spawned a new flock of business travelers.

Roughly 70 million citizens, or a quarter of the nation’s population, have passports. Last year alone more than 12 million were issued, and that number is expected to be topped this year. The State Department began issuing electronic passports last summer. These are regular passports that have a computer chip imbedded in the back cover. The chip stores the same data found in the paper version, including the photo. But the e-model allows customs agents to use facial recognition software in security checks.

The post office processes passports at three locations. The main office,

225 Michigan St. NW
, offers the service from to Monday-Friday, and from to on Saturday. The northwest station at
1624 Walker Ave. NW
process passports from to Monday-Friday, and the Rogers Plaza Postal Store on 28th Street SW does so from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday-Friday.

“The hours at all the locations don’t necessarily coincide with the retail hours of a facility, because we have to consolidate the passport applications every day and then send those off to the passport agency. So we try to get that done before we close for business,” said Haisma.

The city processes applications in the clerk’s office on the 2nd floor of City Hall,

300 Monroe Ave. NW
, from to Monday-Friday.

“It’s fun to have passport customers,” said Hegarty. “We get families and little kids. We get our measuring stick out and measure them. It’s a feel-good service and I love it.”

Post office personnel will be hitting the road next month to process applications. On March 3, they will be at the Kent Philatelic Society Stamp Show being held in American Legion Post 179,

2327 Wilson Ave. SW.
On March 10, the post office and the city of Walker will both process passport applications at the Walker Ice and FitnessCenter,
4151 Remembrance Road NW

“If people bring the stuff that they need, we’ll be able to move the people through,” said Haisma.

The city does not take passport photos, so an applicant needs to have two 2-by-2-inch color head shots to apply for a passport at the city clerk’s office. The postal sites will take photos on-site for $15.

One advantage the city clerk’s office has is that it’s next door to the county clerk’s office, where someone who was born in KentCounty can get a certified copy of their birth certificate, and that is one of five key pieces needed for a passport.

“They don’t bring a legal birth certificate,” said Hegarty of the biggest mistake made by applicants. “They bring a hospital birth certificate thinking that one is good, and it’s not.”

Applicants should also note that one section of the application calls for travel plans. But someone may want a passport for the future and not have an immediate trip planned.

“It’s not a required field, so if you don’t have any specific plans you can leave it blank,” said Hegarty.

It takes about 15 minutes to process an application and about eight weeks for it to be approved by the State Department. Approval used to take six weeks, but the new law has pushed that timeframe back a few weeks due to the volume of applications being processed.

An adult passport is good for 10 years, while a child’s has a lifespan of five years.

In addition to Canada and Mexico, the new law also requires passports for air travel to South and Central America, the Caribbean and Bermuda

“This is a busy time, anyway, for people to get passports, simply because they’re planning ahead for spring break and that’s kind of the start of the vacation season. If they were planning international travel, I think they would have already been getting passports,” said Haisma.

“This (activity) has really increased, though, because now these are required for places that didn’t have that requirement before. Now they’re going to need it.”

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