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VOL. 116 | NO. 166 | Tuesday, August 27, 2002

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Passport fees increase

Passport fees hit sluggish tourism industry

By SUE PEASE

The Daily News

Fees for U.S. passports jumped sharply this month, as the U.S. Department of State made a move to recover the true costs of providing the service.

The fees for first-time adult passports increased to $85 from $60. The fees for passports for minors under 16 increased from $40 to $70. Renewal fees increased from $40 to $55, while the expedited service fee increased from $35 to $60, said Philip T. Reeker, State Department deputy spokesman.

Prior to Augusts change, the last change in passport fees occurred in February 1998, said State Department spokeswoman Paula Williams.

At that time, the fees actually decreased, to $60 from $65 for adult passports. Renewal passport fees decreased to $40 from $55.

The current increase came after the Consular Affairs department hired an independent contractor to study the cost of service. It concluded the fees were not covering service costs.

We have a more secure passport and we are issuing more passports. Every year, passport issuance goes up. Its up to about 7 million, now, Williams said.

The cost just of doing business has gone up, period.

The State Department continues to make passport documents as tamper-resistant as possible.

With passports, we are afraid of fraud thats the biggest issue that somebody will obtain passports and claim they are a U.S. citizen and are not, and use them for criminal activity, Williams said.

Some U.S. Postal Service offices are accepting agencies for passport applications. In Memphis, they are at 555 S. Third St. and 5821 Park Ave.

In October, the Shelby County Probate Court Clerks office became the third local government office authorized to accept U.S. passport applications.

Becky Brasher, executive secretary to Probate Court Clerk Chris Thomas, said she processes many applications, but since the increase no one has applied at the office.

Some people applied before the increase took effect to take advantage of the lower rates, Brasher said.

The office has had a good response since becoming an accepting agency, Brasher said, processing 88 applications since October.

A lot of people in the Downtown area really like the service. They come in on their lunch or 30-minute break to get it done.

Brasher believes the cost increase is justified because the State Department processes an enormous number of applications each year. Additional considerations resulted from the Sept. 11 attacks.

While the fee increase for a passport jumped 42 percent, Brasher didnt think it would stop people from traveling abroad.

Thats just an expense you factor in when going to Europe. You have to have a passport, Brasher said.

Gloria Kalesor, a travel agent at Custom Travel Inc. in Memphis, thinks the passport fee increase, however slight, is just the latest element that could further hurt an already sluggish travel industry.

People arent traveling far from U.S. shores right now, and that could be understandable, said Kalesor, a 20-year veteran of the travel industry.

I have been doing this for a long time, and I have never seen (travel) this slow.

She said while land-locked trips abroad have slowed to a crawl, citizens are opting to go on cruises. Travel to the seemingly friendly waters of the Caribbean has remained relatively stable.

Rick Russell contributed to this story.

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