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US to require machine readable passports from June

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Foreign visitors from 27 countries will have to present machine-readable passports at US borders as of June 26 to enter the United States without a visa, officials said.

Travelers from the so-called visa waiver countries may still enter without a visa only when they have a passport that can be read by Immigration and Customs Enforcement machines, the State Department said in a statement.

Nationals of Andorra, Brunei, Liechtenstein and Slovenia have needed the new passports for visa-free travel since October, 2003 and Belgians have needed them since May 2003.

Since October 2004 the US Department of Homeland Security has given one-time visas to travelers from participating countries who entered without the new passports. However, that grace period will end on June 26 and carriers may be fined 3,300 USD each time they transport a visa waiver traveler to the United States without a machine-readable passport.

The new passports are a post-September 11, 2001 program meant to prevent fraud and confirm the identity of the holder.

The other visa-waiver countries are: Australia, Austria, Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.