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Homeland Security

16 August 2004

Some Visitors to United States Need New Passports by October

State Dept. explains how to recognize machine-readable passports

By Anthony Kujawa
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Visitors entering the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) must have machine-readable passports by October 26, or the traveler must apply for a visa to enter the country, according to the U.S. Department of State.

"This means that if you are from one of the 27 countries in the Visa Waiver Program and want to travel [to the United States] for basic tourism or business without a visa, you must have a passport that has two typeface lines at the bottom of the passport that contains, in a machine readable form, the information on your biographic page, that is, the photo page [of your passport]," said State Department Consular Affairs Spokeswoman Kelly Shannon in a Washington File interview.

Citizens of VWP countries have been able to travel to the United States without visas.

Asked how travelers can know whether their passports are machine-readable, Shannon said, "They should look at the bottom of their passport [the photo page] for two lines that are typeface lines, that have letters, numbers and hatch marks." The two lines at the bottom of a machine-readable passport, for example, would look like the following:

LINE 1: P COUNTRY LAST NAME << FIRST NAME < MIDDLE NAME <<<<<
LINE 2: PASSPORT NUMBER COUNTRY DOB<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

With this technology, the lines include the biographical data on the photo page of the passport, she said. "When a [machine-readable] passport is swiped through a machine-reader, the information would come up and it should match up to the biographic page [of the passport]," said Shannon.

"If it does not, then there is obviously going to be concerns that it [the passport] has been fraudulently altered," she said.

The U.S. government first issued a machine-readable passport in 1981. According to Shannon, "Machine-readable passports enhance security on several fronts. They are scanned at entry and exit points to verify integrity of the data. Lost or stolen machine-readable passports are easier to track. They also enable faster processing of travelers at ports of entry."

Persons traveling from countries where obtaining a visa is standard practice will not be required to have machine-readable passports.

In addition to the October 26 deadline for the machine-readable travel documents, by September 30, 2004, all VWP travelers arriving at a U.S. port of entry will be required to enroll in US-VISIT, a program in which the traveler is photographed and digitally fingerprinted at the immigration checkpoint.

Countries currently participating in 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 United Kingdom.

More information about machine-readable passports is available at: http://travel.state.gov/visa/tempvisitors_novisa_waiver.html

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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