The government of Puerto Rico is offering an expedited procedure to get a new birth certificate, a welcome option for the estimated 1.35 million people born on the island but living on the mainland who must eventually get reissued documents.
After a rocky start, Puerto Rico has been expanding services after approving a law last year that requires all island-born residents to get new, more secure birth certificates.
Although all existing birth certificates were originally scheduled to become invalid June 30, the deadline was extended to Sept. 30 after complaints that the law had not been well publicized, particularly among Puerto Ricans living on the mainland.
In addition to applying in person in Puerto Rico, by mail or the Internet, birth certificates can now be ordered through VitalChek, a LexisNexis company that works with state and local agencies throughout the country to provide vital documents to consumers, according to Sarah Echols, spokeswoman for the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration in Washington.
"The addition of the 24-hour, bilingual call center service through VitalChek will especially help those who do not have access to the Internet and who need assistance with the application process," Echols said.
Werner Oyanadel, acting director of the state Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, said his office has been getting up to 60 inquiries a day about the process for getting a new birth certificate. The commission has been leading efforts in the state to help Puerto Ricans navigate the new system.
Although the commission has set up work stations to help people apply on the Internet, he said many older island-born Puerto Ricans do not have access to the Web or understand it. The commission still offers the help, but has switched its emphasis to mail-in applications.
"When I tell them they can apply on the Internet, they look at me like I'm crazy," Oyanadel said.
The law requiring the new birth certificates was adopted by the commonwealth in December after the U.S. departments of State and Homeland Security told Puerto Rico officials that stolen birth certificates were being used to fraudulently obtain documents, such as passports, or for identity theft.
In a custom unique to the island, Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, were required to provide original birth certificates for an array of activities, such as enrolling in school. The organizations kept the documents, but few stored them securely. As a result, there are as many as 20 million unsecured birth certificates on the island, with some ending up on the black market.
To avoid a deluge of applications that could cause delays, Puerto Rico officials have been urging people to apply now only if they have an immediate need.
Ordering a birth certificate through VitalChek will take five to 14 business days, depending on the method used. Echols said ordering through the government currently takes six to ten weeks, depending on the method.
Puerto Rico's Demographic Registry has issued about 141,000 new birth certificates since they became available July 1, Echols said.
Birth certificates ordered through VitalChek will cost $5 for the certificate, plus a $7 express processing fee for online orders, at http://www.vitalchek.com, or a $9 fee for phone orders, at 866-842-6765, through their 24-hour, bilingual call center service. Customers will pay shipping, either regular mail for $1.40, or by UPS Air, with pricing dependent on location.