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Homeland Security



27 October 2005

Most Countries Meet October 26 Deadline for Digital-Photo Passport

Homeland Security says 25 of 27 visa-waiver nations achieved "full compliance"

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announces that 25 of 27 countries in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) have achieved “full compliance” with an October 26 deadline to produce passports with digital photographs.

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.

According to a Homeland Security press release, most of the VWP countries have met the October 26 deadline for the new requirements by producing passports with digital photos integrated into the data page of the passport.  The requirements are part of an ongoing initiative to increase U.S. security and security for the international traveling public.  (See related article.)

In the case of Austria, Homeland Security certified that a visa “foil” integrated in a visa page of the passport is an acceptable means of compliance with the digital photo requirement.

Homeland Security also announced that Italy and France currently do not have production capabilities to replace all passports expected to expire with passports that include digital photos.  The department urged travelers from these countries to contact their local passport issuance offices to obtain information on whether a digital passport can be issued.  If a passport with a digital photo cannot be issued, the department said travelers must obtain a visa prior to travel to the United States.

Beginning October 26, the U.S. government also will fine airlines that carry passengers without documents that meet the new requirements, the release says. Those travelers also will be refused entry to the United States.

Visitors with valid machine-readable passports issued prior to October 26 may continue to travel to the United States without a visa under the program.  Passports issued on or after that date must bear a digital photo of the holder or the traveler will need a visa to travel to the United States.

Visitors can tell whether their passport meets these requirements. If the passport contains a digital photograph that is printed on the page, not glued or laminated into the document, it is acceptable.  Further details and samples showing what to look for to determine if a passport is in compliance are available on the Homeland Security Web site.

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.

Homeland Security said a digital photo is an “important step” toward incorporating biometrics in passports.  According to the department, digital photographs provide more security against counterfeiting than traditional photographs and can be electronically stored and accessed, making it easier to verify whether the individual currently presenting the passport is the same person to whom the passport was issued.

The press release also noted that VWP countries are required to produce passports with an integrated circuit chip, known as “e-passports,” capable of storing biographic information from the data page of a passport, a digitized photograph and other biometric information no later than October 26, 2006.

The 27 countries 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.

Ongoing coverage of visa requirements is available at Visas and Passports.

Following is the text of the Homeland Security press release:

(begin text)

U.S. Department of Homeland Security
[Washington, D.C.]

Press Release

Office of the Press Secretary
Contact: 202-282-8010
October 26, 2005

Majority of VWP Countries to Meet Digital Photo Deadline

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced today the majority of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries will meet the requirement to produce passports with digital photographs by October 26, 2005. Based on a Congressional mandate, the requirement for digital photographs is part of a multi-layered approach to increasing the security of our citizens and visitors by helping to ensure the integrity of their travel documents. 

Twenty-five of the 27 VWP countries have achieved full compliance with the October 26, 2005 requirements. Most of the VWP countries have done so by producing passports with digital photos integrated into the data page of the passport.

Austria will issue passports to self-identified travelers to the United States with a visa “foil” integrated in a visa page of the passport. This visa foil alternative is an acceptable alternative means of compliance with the digital photo requirement, and DHS certified earlier today that Austria is now compliant with the October 26 requirement.

Italy and France will have limited digital photo production capabilities in operation by October 26, 2005 to replace all passports that will expire with passports that include digital photos. Therefore, travelers from these countries are urged to contact their local passport issuance offices to obtain information on whether a digital passport can be issued. If not, DHS urges travelers to obtain a visa prior to travel to the United States DHS will continue to work closely with these countries to certify their full compliance as soon as possible.

Beginning October 26, 2005, transportation carriers will be fined up to $3,300, per violation, for transporting any visitor traveling under the Visa Waiver Program to the United States who does not meet these requirements. Similarly, visitors traveling under the Visa Waiver Program arriving in the United States on that date without the proper passport should not anticipate being granted entry into the country.

The 9/11 Commission placed great emphasis on secure travel documents as several of the 9/11 hijackers used fraudulent travel documents to enter the United States. The Commission concluded that “for terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons.”

To target fraudulent document use, the U.S. Congress mandated in the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 that any passport issued after October 26, 2005, and used for VWP travel to the United States, must include a biometric identifier.

Responding to the congressional mandates and the 9/11 Commission, DHS and the Department of State have worked closely with the Visa Waiver Program countries to deprive potential terrorists of a tool they use to threaten our country and other countries around the world: the ability to cross our borders using false documents and violate our immigration laws without detection.

One major step forward is the October 26, 2005 deadline requiring VWP countries to begin using biometrics in passports by producing passports with digital photographs. Digital photographs provide more security against counterfeiting than traditional photographs. Digital photos can be electronically stored and accessed, therefore making it easier to verify whether the individual currently presenting the passport is the same person to whom the passport was issued.

While a digital photo is an important step in requiring biometrics in passports, this is just the first in several steps to incorporate biometric identifiers into travel documents. To further advance our security measures, DHS has established policy requiring all VWP countries to produce passports with an integrated circuit chip, known as “e-passports”, capable of storing biographic information from the data page of a passport, a digitized photograph and other biometric information no later than October 26, 2006.

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.

Visitors with valid machine-readable passports issued prior to October 26, 2005, may continue to travel without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program. Passports issued on or after October 26, 2005, require the digital photo. Visitors who are issued a passport after the October 26 deadline that does not meet these requirements will be required to obtain a visa to travel to the United States.

Visitors can tell whether their passport meets these requirements if it contains a digital photograph that is printed on the page, not glued or laminated into the document. Digital photographs offer more security against counterfeiting than traditional photographs. Passport guidelines and samples showing what to look for to determine if a passport is in compliance can be viewed on the DHS website.

Instructions to apply for a U.S. visa are available at www.travel.state.gov, by calling the Department of State’s Visa Services center at (202) 663-1225, or by contacting the nearest consulate or embassy.

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(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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