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Machine-Readable Passport Requirements to Take Effect at U.S. Borders on June 26

Document will be needed by Visa Waiver Program travelers

Posted: May 13, 2005 >Sample image of a machine-readable passport  

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has announced that effective June 26 all Visa Waiver Program travelers will have to present a machine-readable passport (MRP) for visa-free entry into the United States, but it says the requirement will affect only about 0.35 percent of travelers currently entering the United States under the program.

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables citizens of 27 countries to visit the United States for tourism or trade for up to 90 days without obtaining visas.

Speaking May 12 at the Foreign Press Center in Washington, Elaine Dezenski, the department’s acting assistant secretary for border and transportation security policy, announced that on June 26 DHS will end an “interim procedure” to assist VWP travelers which has allowed immigration officials to grant a one-time waiver for entry into the United States to VWP travelers without MRPs.

All VWP travelers will need a machine-readable passport to enter the United States without a visa from that date on, and carriers will be fined $3,300 for transporting any VWP traveler to the United States without a MRP, Dezenski said.

The U.S. Congress originally set October 1, 2003, as the date by which VWP travelers would need to present a MRP in order to enter the United States without a visa, but that deadline was postponed for 23 of the 27 VWP countries until October 26, 2004. Homeland Security’s “interim procedure” has been in effect since that date, Dezenski said.

“VWP travelers arriving in the U.S. on that date [June 26] without a MRP should not anticipate being granted one-time entry into the country [without a visa],” she said.

Over the past six months, an average of about 147 travelers per day from VWP countries have attempted to enter the United States without a machine-readable document -- about 0.35 percent of the total visa-waiver travelers entering the United States, she said. “So it is a very small percentage.”

All VWP countries have programs in place to issue MRPs, and more than 42,000 VWP visitors enter the United States every day with MRPs, she said. The U.S. government first issued MRPs in 1981.

“But the reality is 147 people is still too many, and we want to make sure that we get that number as close to zero as possible,” the official said.

The highest percentage of VWP travelers without MRPs come from France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Norway and Japan, she said.

Dezenski said the U.S. government has engaged in an ongoing effort to inform possible VWP travelers of the congressionally mandated requirement to present a MRP for visa-free entry into the United States.

“The U. S. government is deeply committed to working with our international partners to secure our borders while continuing to welcome legitimate foreign travelers and trade,” she said.

She and Randy Beardsworth, the department’s acting under secretary for border and transportation security, agree that MRPs will expedite the entrance process to the United States.

“The machine-readable passport benefits foreign visitors as much as it does homeland security,” said Beardsworth in a May 12 press release. “With one fast swipe, front line officers can pull up the information that they need to process legitimate travelers quickly. At the same time, this immediate information access enables our officers to focus even more on identifying and interdicting potential threats.”

Machine-readable passports include two optical-character, typeface lines at the bottom of the biographic page of the passport that, when read, deters fraud and helps confirm the passport holder's identity quickly. (See sample image of a machine-readable passport.)

Visa Waiver travelers who are not in possession of machine-readable passports may apply for a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or consulate abroad if seeking entry for business or tourist visits to the United States. Information on the Visa Waiver Program and how to apply for a U.S. visa is available at www.travel.state.gov and www.unitedstatesvisas.gov.

“You have two options -- you can either obtain a passport that has a machine-readable function, or you could certainly apply for a visa,” Dezenski said.

The following 27 countries are currently in the VWP: Andorra, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

DHS said the machine-readable passport requirements do not affect the separate congressionally mandated deadline requiring VWP country passports issued on or after October 26, 2005, to contain biometrics in order to be used for visa-free travel to the United States. See also, “Congressional Panel Chair Urges Biometric Passport Deadline Be Met”

“All of the VWP countries are working very closely with us to communicate information about these news requirements to all of their citizens,” Dezenski said.

“We hope to see the number of [VWP] travelers without MRPs reduced even more between now and June 26… and we will continue to work with our international partners to educate the public about this new requirement,” she said.

Following are the texts of a DHS press release, a DHS “Frequently Asked Questions” document, and a State Department media note on the announcement:

(begin text)

U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Press Release
Office of the Press Secretary

May 12, 2005

Machine Readable Passports Required For All Visa Waiver Program Travel as of June 26, 2005

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) today reminded travelers from 27 Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries that as of June 26, 2005, they must have a machine-readable passport to enter the United States without a visa, as mandated by Congress. Machine-readable passports have a sequence of lines that can be swiped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers to confirm the passport holder's identity quickly and to obtain other information about the holder typically found on a passport's inside cover.

The Immigration and Nationality Act originally set October 1, 2003 as the date by which VWP travelers needed to present a machine-readable passport. At the request of 23 of the 27 VWP countries, the United States postponed that requirement until October 26, 2004, for those requesting countries. For a limited period, DHS has been authorizing a one-time waiver for entry into the country for VWP travelers without a machine-readable passport, at no charge to the traveler. This limited period will end on June 26, 2005. Beginning June 26, 2005, transportation carriers will be fined $3,300, per violation, for transporting any VWP traveler to the United States without a machine-readable passport. Similarly, VWP travelers arriving in the United States on that date without a machine-readable passport should not anticipate being granted one-time entry into the country.

"The machine-readable passport benefits foreign visitors as much as it does homeland security," said Randy Beardsworth, Acting Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security. "With one fast swipe, front line officers can pull up the information that they need to process legitimate travelers quickly. At the same time, this immediate information access enables our officers to focus even more on identifying and interdicting potential threats."

Since October 26, 2004, CBP officers have notified VWP travelers entering the United States with a letter explaining the new entry requirements. In addition, VWP countries are working closely with the United States Government to communicate information about these new requirements to their citizens. Anyone from the 27 VWP countries thinking of traveling to the United States is encouraged to check with their passport issuing authority to ensure they are in possession of a machine-readable passport. As an alternative for persons with immediate travel plans who are unable to obtain a machine-readable passport in time, the individual may apply for a U.S. visa at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad.

The 27 countries participating in the VWP include: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Any traveler from these 27 countries will need a machine-readable passport on June 26, 2005 to enter the United States. Last year, approximately 15 million VWP travelers visited the United States.

The machine-readable passport requirements do not affect the separate congressionally mandated deadline requiring VWP country passports issued on or after October 26, 2005, to contain biometrics in order to be used for visa free travel to the United States.

(end text)

(begin frequently asked questions)

U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Press Office
May 12, 2005

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Visa Waiver Program?

If you are a national from a Visa Waiver Program-designated country, you are allowed to apply for admission to the United States for ninety (90) days or less as a nonimmigrant visitor for business or pleasure without first obtaining a U.S. nonimmigrant visa.

What are the Visa Waiver Program countries?

Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

How do I know if I have a machine-readable passport?

Machine-readable passports have a sequence of lines that can be swiped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers to quickly confirm the passport holder's identity and obtain other information about the holder typically found on a passport's inside cover. You may obtain information as to whether your passport is machine-readable at your country's nearest Consulate or Embassy or passport-issuing office.

What happens if I am applying for admission under the Visa Waiver Program, but I don't have a machine-readable passport by June 26, 2004?

Since October 26, 2004, CBP has granted, on a case-by-case basis, a one-time parole for Visa Waiver Program applicants who apply for admission and are not in possession of an MRP. This policy will continue until June 26, 2005. On that date, if VWP travelers are not in possession of a machine-readable passport, they should not anticipate to be permitted to board an aircraft or cruise ship and if VWP travelers arrive at a U.S. port of entry, they may be denied admission to the United States.

Is it going to cost me anything for the parole?

At the present time, there is no fee for parole granted in these circumstances. After June 26, 2005, if you are not in possession of a machine-readable passport, you will likely not be permitted to board an aircraft or cruise ship and if you do arrive at a U.S. port of entry, you may be denied admission to the United States. Individuals without machine-readable passports who are granted parole after that date will be charged the usual parole fee of $65.

Is there any alternative to me getting a machine-readable passport?

As an alternative, you may apply for a nonimmigrant visa from a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad.

If I am applying for admission under the Visa Waiver Program and I am granted a parole for not having a machine-readable passport, what will happen if I return to the United States on a subsequent visit without a machine-readable passport or a nonimmigrant visa?

If you apply for admission in the future without the required machine-readable passport or without a nonimmigrant visa, you will be denied entry to the United States and may be detained until removed.

If I am applying for admission under the Visa Waiver Program and I am granted a parole, can I make a side-trip to Canada, Mexico, or adjacent islands?

If you travel to Canada or Mexico or the adjacent islands as part of this trip to the United States, you may be found inadmissible upon your reentry, despite the period of parole on your I-94, as parole authorization terminates upon your departure from the United States.

Does this policy apply to the Guam Visa Waiver Program?

No.

Prior to June 26, 2005, will the parole procedures be available to all Visa Waiver Program travelers?

No, the parole procedures will be available to nationals of twenty-two (22) designated Visa Waiver Program countries.

The designated countries are: Australia, Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

As of October 1, 2003, nationals of the following four countries were required to present an MRP for admission under the VWP: Andorra, Brunei, Liechtenstein, and Slovenia. CBP will continue to recognize that effective date and the current parole procedures will not affect that policy.

As of May 16, 2003, nationals of Belgium were required to present an MRP for admission under the VWP. CBP will continue to recognize that effective date and the current parole procedures will not affect that policy.

I am applying under the Visa Waiver Program and my child is listed on my machine-readable passport. Will my child be affected by this new policy?

Yes, each VWP applicant must now present an individual passport. Families must have individual machine-readable passports for everyone, including children.

I understand that the biometric requirement for Visa Waiver Program country passports was extended to October 26, 2005, did that also extend the requirement for all Visa Waiver Program applicants to present an MRP upon admission into the United States?

No. Although Congress has extended until October 26, 2005, the biometric requirement for Visa Waiver Program country passports, it did not extend the requirement that all Visa Waiver Program applicants present an MRP upon admission into the United States. Travelers presenting themselves for admission under the Visa Waiver Program are required to have a machine-readable passport.

I intend to travel for vacation to the United States arriving at the Miami International Airport. I then intend to board a cruise vessel for a Caribbean trip. After reviewing my itinerary I have discovered that the cruise vessel will be departing for foreign destinations and making multiple entries at U.S. ports. Will my parole status be affected by this multiple entries at different U.S. ports?

At this time, travelers who apply for admission at an airport with a non machine-readable passport for the purpose of departing on a cruise that makes multiple stops at various U.S. ports may be considered again for parole at several locations to complete their trip if they can establish continuous travel from the arrival to cruise and return.

(end frequently asked questions)

(begin text)

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
May 12, 2005

MEDIA NOTE

Machine-Readable Passport Requirements To Take Effect at U.S. Borders on June 26, 2005

The Department of Homeland Security today announced that as of June 26, 2005, all persons traveling under the auspices of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) must present a machine-readable passport (MRP) to travel to the United States without a visa.

The Immigration and Nationality Act originally set October 1, 2003 as the date by which Visa Waiver Program travelers were required to present a machine-readable passport for visa-free travel to the United States. Twenty-three of the 27 Visa Waiver Program countries requested and were granted a postponement to October 26, 2004 of this requirement. The countries not requesting this postponement were Andorra, Brunei, Liechtenstein, and Slovenia. Nationals of those four countries have been required to present a machine-readable passport for visa-free travel since October 1, 2003. Belgian nationals traveling under the auspices of the Visa Waiver Program have been required to present a machine-readable passport since May 15, 2003.

For a limited period that started on October 26, 2004, the Department of Homeland Security has provided immigration inspectors at U.S. borders and ports of entry the authority to grant a one-time entry at no charge for Visa Waiver travelers arriving without a machine-readable passport. This limited period will end on June 26, 2005. Starting on that date, transportation carriers will be fined $3,300 per violation for transporting any Visa Waiver traveler to the U.S. without a machine-readable passport.

The Department of State has been working closely with Visa Waiver Program countries to communicate information about the machine-readable passport requirement to their citizens. Since October 26, 2004, Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection officers have been notifying Visa Waiver travelers entering the United States with a letter explaining the machine-readable passport requirements.

Machine-readable passports include two optical-character, typeface lines at the bottom of the biographic page of the passport that, when read, deters fraud and helps confirm the passport holder's identity quickly. A sample image of a machine-readable passport may be found at http://www.travel.state.gov/visa/temp/without/without_1990.html#4.

Visa Waiver travelers who are not in possession of machine-readable passport may also apply for a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad if seeking entry for business or tourist visits to the United States. Information on the Visa Waiver Program and how to apply for a U.S. visa is available at www.travel.state.gov and www.unitedstatesvisas.gov.

The machine-readable passport requirements do not affect the separate deadline requiring Visa Waiver Program country passports issued on or after October 26, 2005, to contain biometrics in order to be used for visa-free travel to the United States.

(end text)

 


 

 

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