Government extends TWIC deadline following reports of widespread problems

The U.S. government is giving mariners an additional seven months to acquire required biometric identification cards.

On May 2, 2008 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration announced that the final deadline for acquisition of Transportation Worker Identification Credentials – commonly known as TWIC cards – has been delayed until April 15, 2009. The original deadline was Sept. 25, 2008.

The decision will give the government more time to work out problems that many mariners and other transportation workers encountered when applying for their TWIC cards. Earlier this year there were widespread complaints from mariners and employers about difficulties obtaining cards in a timely way. Mariners also complained about problems with the equipment designed to record their fingerprints and with getting accurate information concerning the status of their applications.

Because mariners will need to have a TWIC card in order to work aboard vessels and at marine terminals, industry leaders were concerned that the problems and resulting delays could cause serious disruptions in their operations if workers could not obtain their cards before the deadline.

Gregory Soule, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said the deadline extension is the result of collaboration with industry and port officials.

Not all transportation workers will get the full benefit of the deadline extension. Some ports will begin implementing TWIC requirements as early as October of this year and others will follow suit in the months that follow. However, all mariners with U.S. Coast Guard papers will have until April 15, 2009, to obtain their TWIC cards, regardless of when actual enforcement begins in various U.S. ports.

This policy, Soule explained, recognizes the fact that mariners may need more time to get their cards because their work often takes them away for long periods.

Wait time is now running at four to six weeks, according to the agency, which hopes to see those times reduced.

Under the program's rules, workers whose applications are denied have 60 days in which to appeal. DHS says that applicants may request an extension to the appeals deadline by sending a written request to TSA explaining why they were unable to file within the allotted time.

Soule said that the appeals process is not open ended. He said that the TSA is required to issue either a Final Determination of Threat or withdraw the Initial Determination of Threat within 60 days after receiving an applicant's appeal. He added that the TSA can grant itself an extension as per the regulation.

Mariners have also expressed concern over what kinds of issues might lead to the rejection of an application for a TWIC card, such as an individual's country of birth. DHS says that being born in a foreign country is not in itself a disqualifying factor. However, applicants born abroad must present either a Department of State certificate of report of birth (Form DS-1350), Department of State consular report of birth abroad (Form FS-240) or a valid U.S. passport to qualify. Denials based upon improper documentation presented during the initial application process are dealt with by appeal.

By Professional Mariner Staff