TORONTO, Feb. 22 -- The United States plans to ease passport requirements for teenagers and children crossing from Canada into the United States, in an attempt to defuse complaints that new security rules will throttle cross-border visitation.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said Thursday that it will propose allowing teenagers 18 and younger traveling with teams or organizations, and all children 15 or younger, to use a certified birth certificate to cross the border, instead of a passport.
The change is an attempt to solve the "team bus" problem, in which critics said school trips and games between teams of neighboring towns would be canceled under the new U.S. rules requiring a passport to cross the border.
DHS hopes to impose the new passport rule, developed after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on land-border crossings by next January, although Congress has extended the deadline to June 2009. Air travelers entering from Canada and Mexico were required to use passports beginning last month.
Canadians and U.S. border-state officials have complained that the new rules at land crossings will sharply cut tourism and be a burden in towns near the border whose citizens customarily cross easily and frequently.
"This is a step in the right direction," Christopher Jones, vice president of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, said of the announcement Thursday, made by DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff in Detroit. "I see it as a sign of incipient and growing flexibility by DHS to some of the concerns that have been raised."
His group and others have predicted that many Americans and Canadians will not go to the trouble and expense of getting passports. The changes announced Thursday will reduce the financial burden on families traveling with children, DHS spokeswoman Naomi Elmer said from Washington.
"It's a bit easier and less expensive to get a certified birth certificate than a passport," she said.
Ontario officials confirmed Thursday that they are hoping a new high-tech driver's license for Canadian citizens would be accepted by U.S. border officials instead of a passport, but U.S. authorities have not yet agreed to that.