US - a one-year extension for Biometric Passport Issuance

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US State Department announces a one-year extension for Biometric Passport Issuance by Visa Waiver Program Countries

On Aug. 09, United States President George Bush extended the deadline by one year, to Oct. 26, 2005, by which countries must begin issuing new passports that are biometrically enabled. This extension was necessary to avoid potential disruption of international travel and to provide the international community adequate time to develop viable programs for producing more secure, biometrically enabled passport, the US State Department said in a statement.

The original legislation required that Visa Waiver Program country passports issued on or after Oct. 26, 2004, be biometrically enabled for use in Visa Waiver travel.

To mitigate security concerns related to this extension, the Department of Homeland Security will begin enrolling Visa Waiver Program travelers through the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program at all airports and seaports on or about Sept. 30, 2004, according to the State Department statement. Enrollment in US-VISIT allows the United States to continue international efforts to enhance border security while facilitating legitimate travel. The US-VISIT system is a fast and easy process that requires two digital index finger scans and a digital photograph from a traveler to verify his or her identity.

Another requirement for Visa Waiver Program travel will still come into effect on Oct. 26, 2004. On and after that date, all passports used for travel in the Visa Waiver Program must be machine-readable. Last year, the Secretary of State granted a postponement from Oct. 1, 2003, until Oct. 26, 2004, as the date by which Visa Waiver Program travelers from 22 countries must present a machine-readable passport to be admitted to the United States without a visa. Four eligible countries did not request a postponement of the effective date. Belgium was not eligible to request a waiver.

Although the addition of biometrics to the U.S. passport is not covered by the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, the Department of State has been working diligently towards developing U.S. biometric passports. The United States recognizes the benefits of biometric identity verification and strives to remain at the forefront of international travel document security. By the end of 2005, all domestically produced U.S. passports will be biometric passports.