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25 September 2003

State Department Announces Delay in Requirement for Hi-Tech Passport

Machine-readable passports to be required for travelers from five nations October 1

The U.S. State Department has announced a postponement in implementation of a new requirement that travelers from nations involved in the visa waiver program carry a machine-readable passport. The requirement for the modernized document will take effect October 26 rather than October 1 as originally proposed. A statement issued by Spokesman Richard Boucher September 24 says that 21 nations had requested the postponement, which was granted in view of the efforts the nations are making to ensure that machine-readable passports are issued.

The requirement for machine readable passports will take effect October 1 for travelers from five nations in the visa waiver program.

Nations participating in the visa waiver program have met certain criteria that indicate that their citizens are at a low risk of violating the provisions of a U.S. visa.

The U.S. requirement for machine-readable passports is in keeping with security advisories from the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Further information on the visa waiver program is available at http://travel.state.gov/vwp.html

Further information about machine-readable passports is available at http://www.icao.int/icao/en/atb/fal/mrtd/doc9303.htm

Following is the text of the Boucher statement:

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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
(New York, New York)
September 24, 2003

Statement by Richard Boucher, Spokesman

Machine-Readable Passports for Visa Waiver Program Travel Postponed

The Secretary of State has granted a postponement until October 26, 2004, as the date by which Visa Waiver Program travelers from 21 countries must present a machine-readable passport at a U.S. port of entry to be admitted to the country without a visa. The Department of State consulted with the Department of Homeland Security before making this decision.

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

Each country to which this postponement was granted made a formal request and certified that it is making progress toward ensuring that machine readable passports are available to its nationals and that it has taken appropriate measures to protect against misuse of its non-machine-readable passports.

Five other eligible countries did not request a postponement of the effective date, because virtually all of their citizens already have machine-readable passports. Those countries are Andorra, Brunei, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, and Slovenia. As of October 1, 2003, visa waiver travelers from those five countries must present either a machine-readable passport or a United States visa.

Belgium, which is also a visa waiver country, was not eligible to receive this extension. Belgian nationals who wish to travel under the auspices of the Visa Waiver Program have been required to present a machine-readable passport since May 15, 2003. This requirement was stipulated in the Department of Justice's review of Belgium's continued eligibility to participate in the Visa Waiver Program in February 2003.

The Secretary's authority to postpone the effective date for a visa waiver country's citizens to present a machine-readable passport is contained in the USA Patriot Act, which legislated the requirement for visa waiver travelers.

Citizens of Visa Waiver Program countries are permitted to enter the United States for general business or tourist purposes for a maximum of 90 days without needing a visa.

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