Saturday, July 21, 2012

Changing World - Passports

I've had a passport for as long as I can remember, but vividly recall attending numerous international conferences over the years, at which mildly accusatory speakers from the U.S. and overseas, trotted out dismal statistics on the number of U.S. citizens who didn't have passports. When I traveled overseas, the subject also came up frequently, all to point out blatantly or subtly, how parochial the people in my country were. Somehow the U.S. was "defective"--less knowledgeable, less cultured, less well less, fill in the blank, because its citizens didn't have passports in large numbers. What could I say? I too was dismayed that more people in my country didn't share my enthusiasm for work or travel outside the confines of the U.S. As time passed the subject came up less often, so when it came up recently, I decided to get the facts for myself. Surely there had been an evolution in our connections to the rest of the world at the citizen level. I knew that more and more U.S. citizens needed to travel outside the U.S. for work, to countries a few years back they might not know anything about. The number of young people who considered themselves global citizens or globe trotters or just globally savvy had also grown. Universities realized that their institutions would be judged on the amount of international exposure and number of skills they could offer students. So here is the pleasant surprise. According to Forbes, one-third of the U.S. population or roughly 110 million citizens now have passports. How has this changed in the past years? In 2000, 48 million U.S. citizens had passports which means in twelve years the total has more than doubled. Go back a little further to 1989 and you'll find that only 7 million U.S. citizens had passports, under 3% of our population. How frequently they are being used and where people are going, I don't know, though I'm sure those statistics are available as well. Take heart U.S. citizens. More and more of us are learning to navigate and connect to the rest of the world and soon, I predict the majority of our citizens will have passports and use them.