U.S. State Department’s Next-Gen Passport: Coming Soon?

The federal regulation that addresses the soon-to-be-eliminated option to buy additional pages for your passport book also discusses the Next Generation Passport.  We’ve heard that the U.S. State Department is discontinuing the option to buy additional pages for your passport book.  This option is useful when you travel so frequently that your passport book pages fill up before it’s time to renew your passport book. Unfortunately, starting on January 1st, ordering additional passport book pages will not longer be an option–you’ll have to pay for a new passport EVERY TIME the pages fill up.  For comparison, it’s $82 for additional pages but it’s $110 to renew a passport book.  I’m sure that news is not welcome for the 170,000 people that ordered additional pages in 2013.  If you’re interested in ordering additional pages, check out the U.S. State Department’s website sooner rather than later 🙂

The U.S. State Department responded to one comment (during a formal notice and comment period ) from a traveler who was not happy about the idea of buying passport books more frequently:

The commenter expressed concern that eliminating visa page inserts would be a considerable inconvenience. The commenter wrote that due to the extent of his travels, eliminating visa page inserts would require him to renew his passport every three or four years, even if he is issued the larger 52-page passport book. The commenter also wrote that running out of visa pages in his passport would cause some of his multi-year visas to expire, requiring him to renew his visas early or possibly carry his expired U.S. passport until the visas in it expire.

The Department recognizes that eliminating visa page inserts may pose an inconvenience to a very small number of U.S. passport holders whose travel requires the issuance of multiple visas. The Department has a policy in place to permit the issuance of a second regular fee passport to individuals who require their first passport books for travel while their visa applications are pending with foreign governments. (See 7 FAM 1310 Appendix R c(2) http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/94669.pdf).Show citation box

The commenter questioned if visa page inserts present a genuine security concern. As described in the NPRM, an interagency working group studied the issue and determined that the elimination of visa page inserts added value to the security features of visa page inserts that far outweighed the inconvenience caused by the elimination of this service, for which there is very limited demand.

Finally, the problems the commenter describes are very rare among U.S. passport holders. The average U.S. passport holder uses six or fewer visa pages. Ninety-seven percent of all U.S. passport holders will have used 17 pages or less by the time they renew their passports. Less than one percent of U.S. passport holders will have used more than 32 pages when they renew their passports. On average, people who apply for visa page inserts for a U.S. passport do so seven years after the passport was issued and 17 percent of these individuals had the smaller passport book to begin with. Accordingly, while the Department certainly understands the commenter’s concerns, it still expects the overall impact of this rule on U.S. passport holders to be minimal, and to be outweighed by the security concerns discussed in the NPRM.

What the U.S. State Department hasn’t said is whether it will also roll out its Next Generation Passport Book as planned on January 1st.  When the U.S. State Department drafted the proposed rule in the Federal Register that related to the elimination of the additional passport book pages (the above-mentioned comment was drafted in response to this proposed rule), the U.S. State Department intended to start issuing its Next Generation Passport Book on January 1, 2016.  “The expected effective date of this rule [to eliminate additional passport pages] coincides with when the Department expects to begin issuing an updated version of the Next Generation Passport book.”  The Next Generation Passport Book is expected to contain enhanced security features.  “The Next Generation Passport, which is the next update of the U.S. passport book, will contain a polycarbonate data-page and will be personalized with laser engraving. This passport will also employ conical laser perforation of the passport number through the data and visa pages; display a general artwork upgrade and new security features including watermark, security artwork, optical variable security devices, tactile features, and optically variable inks. The primary reason for eliminating visa page inserts is to protect the integrity of the Next Generation Passport books.”

This rule was finalized without changes on November 20, 2015 and can be viewed in the Federal Register.

Surprisingly, the U.S. State Department has not yet formally announced when it will start issuing the Next Generation Passport Books or whether it will need to raise the price of passport book applications/ renewals as a result of the new security features.  Given the successful (depending on your perspective) phase-out of the option to purchase additional passport pages, I anticipate we’ll hear more information from the U.S. State Department closer to the new year.

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