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Deadlines for Visa Waiver Travelers Fast Approaching

Most visa waiver travelers already meet June 26, October 26 requirements

Posted: June 21, 2005 Related item: U.S. mandates digital photo on Visa Waiver passport  

Washington -- Deadlines for implementation of new requirements for travelers from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries are fast approaching, but officials say they expect the vast majority VWP travelers to “be in compliance” and able to continue to enter the United States visa-free.

The VWP enables citizens of 27 countries to visit the United States for tourism or business for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. Fast-approaching are three dates – June 26, October 26 and October 26, 2006 – when new requirements for the VWP travelers are scheduled to take effect.

According to recent U.S. Department of Homeland Security press briefings and documents, the requirements for travelers wanting to enter the United States without a visa under the VWP are as follows:

June 26: Travelers from VWP countries must present passports that are machine-readable for visa-free entry into the United States.
October 26: Travelers from VWP countries with passports issued on or after this date must present passports with a digital photograph; VWP countries are required to produce passports with digital photographs and present an “acceptable plan” to issue passports with integrated circuit chips, or e-passports within one year.
October 26, 2006: Travelers from VWP countries with a passport issued on or after this date must present a passport with an integrated circuit chip, also known as e-passport, capable of storing biographic information from the passport’s data page, a digitized photograph and other biometric information.
The three requirements stem from legislation passed in 2002 by the U.S. Congress. The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 (a U.S. law also known as the Border Security Act) originally required that the government of each VWP country certify it had a program to produce tamper-resistant, machine-readable passports that incorporate a biometric identifier that complies with International Civil Aviation Organization standards by October 26, 2004. In mid-2004, Congress extended the deadline one year. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in recent months, has clarified requirements for continued participation in the VWP.

Announcing that effective June 26 the United States will enforce a congressionally mandated requirement that VWP travelers present a machine-readable passport [MRP] to enter the United States without a visa, Homeland Security’s acting Assistant Secretary for Border and Transportation Security Policy Elaine Dezenski explained that most VWP travelers already have MRPs.

At a May 12 press briefing, Dezenski said that during the previous six months, an average of about 147 passengers per day from VWP countries have attempted to enter the United States without a machine-readable passport. According to Dezenski, this accounts for only about 0.35 percent of the total VWP travelers entering the United States under the VWP. “So it is a very small percentage,” she said.

Machine-readable passports include two optical-character, typeface lines at the bottom of the biographic page of the passport that, when read, deter fraud and help confirm the passport holder's identity quickly.

Announcing the October 26 deadline for VWP countries to produce passports with digital photographs -- and for travelers from VWP countries with passports issued on or after that date to present passports with a digital photograph -- Dezenski stated at a June 15 press briefing: “We believe that the vast majority of the VWP nations will be in compliance with the digital photo requirement by October. Today’s announcement provides us time to work with all VWP nations to assess their status over the next several months.”

According to news reports, most of the VWP countries are already producing passports with the digital photograph.

“Keep in mind that these requirements apply to new passports issued after October 26, 2005,” Dezenski said. “So if your passport is valid as of October 25th and includes a machine-readable strip, then it's still valid for travel to the United States after that October 26, 2005 deadline for the lifetime of the passport,” she said.

Dezenski stated, “Programs like Visa Waiver embody our shared goals in facilitating travel, preserving integrity of our borders, and helping us to stop terrorists and those who mean us harm.”

“Digital photographs provide more security against both counterfeiting and other types of manipulation,” she said. “Digital photographs can be electronically stored and accessed, which is very important, and therefore, make it easier to verify whether the individual presenting the passport is the same person to whom it was issued.”

“The electronic passport is the path to secure and streamlined travel among Visa Waiver Program countries,” said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, in a June 15 press release. “These passport requirements will maintain and strengthen the integrity of the Visa Waiver Program in a manner consistent with congressional intent and international standards.”

Progress on the e-passport is advancing and live tests have begun with the governments of Australia and New Zealand, Dezenski said June 15. Airline crews from these countries have volunteered to use the e-passport when arriving in Los Angeles and Sydney, Australia, she said. “This participation will enable DHS to further test operations, equipment and software needed to read and verify the information in the e-passport.”

Dezenski also explained that visa-waiver travelers whose passports do not meet the requirements 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.

The 27 VWP countries are: 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.

In 2004, approximately 15 million VWP travelers visited the United States.

Transcripts from Dezenski’s May 12 and June 15 press briefings on the Visa Waiver Program are available on the State Department’s Foreign Press Center Web site. The June 15 DHS press release is available on the Homeland Security’s Web site.

Greg Jones
Washington File Staff Writer

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