Asunto: U.S. Passport Fees to raise on July 13th
Get ready to open your wallet a little wider to satisfy your travel bug: It is soon going to cost more to apply for a new U.S. passport or renew an old one -- a move criticized by the public and some lawmakers.
Starting next Tuesday, adults applying for their first passport book will have 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, is rising from $45 to $55 for first-time applicants.)
Want to add more visa pages to your passport book? It's free now, but you will have to shell out $82 under the new fee schedule.
The renewal fee for passport books will rise to $110 -- up from the current $75.
There's even a new fee if you'd like formally to renounce your U.S. citizenship -- it costs nothing now, but the price tag will be $450 starting Tuesday.
Fees for passport book and cards for children also are set to rise. (See chart for fee increases.)
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.
The agency received 1,797 comments about the proposal during the public comment period this spring, with about 70 percent of the messages expressing concern about the increase in the fees.
The commenters included AAA, which suggested delaying the hikes until the country showed more signs of an economic recovery, according to the Federal Register.
United Airlines also chimed in, submitting a joint comment with the U.S. Travel Association expressing concern that the fee changes may deter international travel by U.S. citizens.
But the State Department insists the hike is not significant compared to the overall costs of international travel.
In addition, all of the increased security and the anti-fraud measures added to passports in recent years come at a cost, said Brenda Sprague, deputy assistant secretary for passport services, during a March news briefing addressing concerns about the hike.
"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 -- expressed concern over the changes as soon as the proposal was announced.
U.S. Rep. Chris Lee, R-New York, sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in February 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.
U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-New York, agreed.
"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.