Skip to main content

How Long To Be Identified?

Today I spent nine (9) (no, that’s not a typo) hours in line to apply for a passport.

What happened was, since the U.S. changed the rules to say everyone’s gotta have a passport, a lot of Americans and Canadians who were used to going back and forth between the countries suddenly needed passports, and the systems are buckling under the strain. (Hmm... I wonder if Mexico’s is as well?)

My passport’s good till July, but I’m traveling a whole bunch and don’t have much time here in Vancouver. Last Monday, April 3rd, was the start of two no-international-travel weeks. I’d heard about the line-ups but had no idea, so I went down there after lunch and got in front of a human being by 3:30. She sent me away because I was applying for an expedited passport but hadn’t brought documents to prove I was traveling. When I told people this story they were astounded, saying the only way to be sure of getting in on any given day was to be waiting at 6AM when the building doors opened.

So writes Tim Bray in "Passport Hell." I figure that if a day's time is worth $100, and every Canadian needs to get a passport to enter the US, this will cost the 30 million people of Canada $3 billion. That's ignoring the roughly $100 cost of each passport (total, $6 billion), and the $100 is just about minimum wage for a day. Still, it seems an awful lot to pay to make Canadians all have more bits of identification.

The photo is of Japanese Americans waiting in line, courtesy of the US government. It's from "Camp Harmony" exhibit at UW Libraries.

[Update: clarified writing around estimates.]

[Update 2: Yoshi, in comments, calls my use of the original photo here insenstive and offensive. See the comments for my thinking, and I've moved the photo out of the post so as not to be offensive. Apologies to those who were offended.]