The U.S. is delaying by up to a year a deadline for 27 countries covered by its visa waiver program to begin issuing passports with biometric identification information, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said this week.
The country had been planning to require biometric passports issued from October 26 for admission into the U.S. under the visa waiver program. The deadline wouldn't have affected existing and valid passports issued before the date, says Michael Boyle, a spokesperson at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.
Biometric passports contain a non-contact chip in which all of the information from the passport's data page is stored along with a digital photograph of the holder and as-yet unspecified additional data that could include a fingerprint scan or other biometric information.
The visa waiver program allows people from 27 countries to enter the U.S. for business or pleasure for up to 90 days without a visa and was used by 15 million people in 2004, according to U.S. government figures.
The deadline for the issuance of biometric passports has now been pushed back to October 26, 2006.
The U.S. had originally planned to require biometric passports from October 2004. However, this was previously delayed by a year until October 2005. Despite the first delay, regulations were toughened and the U.S. began requiring machine readable passports, which contain two lines of text that can be scanned by a computer and specify basic data such as the passport number, holder's name, and nationality.
Like the last delay, the latest one comes with a new requirement: that all passports used under the visa waiver program have a digital photograph. Unlike the biometric requirement, the new digital photo requirement and last year's machine readable requirement apply to all visitors traveling under the program and not just those with passports issued after the deadline dates.
The 27 countries covered by the visa waiver program 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 U.K.
The various passport requirements don't affect visitors traveling to the U.S. from the 27 countries who posses visas or those traveling from other countries who are not eligible under the visa waiver program.