Most Europeans may soon need to apply for US visit visas

Many Europeans will need to apply for a visit visa to visit America later this year after the US Congress said that there was little chance of postponing a deadline for the introduction of biometric passports. It is currently the case that most Europeans can come under the US visa waiver scheme without having to apply for a visit visa at an US Embassy or Consulate.

The US set an Oct. 2005 deadline for visitors to the US to hold a passport with a biometric identifier contained in an electronic chip. Those without the chip will need visas.

European Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini has written to the US Congress asking for the deadline to be delayed until August 2006. He said only six EU countries -- Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg and Sweden -- are currently in a position to meet the October deadline.

The UK is also negotiating separately with the US for an extension to the deadline as it only plans to start introducing biometric passports from the end of 2005. The UK biometric passports will have a chip with a digital image of the holder while the versions from other EU countries will also carry a fingerprint or iris scan.

If the US agrees to the demand it will be the second extension to the biometric passport deadline, but if it doesn't then millions of travelers to the US will be faced with having to apply for a visa to gain entry if they don't hold one of the new passports.

The European Union might consider demanding visas of US citizens if the US Congress sticks to an October deadline for EU countries to start issuing high-tech biometric passports, European officials warned on April 1.