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Most VWP Countries Meet DHS Passport Standards Deadline


New York, Oct 28, 2005

The October 26, 2005, deadline has passed for Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries to meet the requirements issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to produce passports with digital photographs. Based on a Congressional mandate, the requirement to include a biometric identifier such as a digital photograph is part of the agency's aim to increase the security and integrity of travel documents of citizens and visitors to the United States. Carriers that transport people into the U.S. without the new passports will be punished with fines.

The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 required use of biometric identifier standards intended to reduce fraudulent identification documents and deprive potential terrorists of a tool to cross U.S. borders and violate immigration laws. According to DHS, 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.

"Beginning Oct. 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," DHS said in a statement. "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."

Twenty-five of the 27 VWP countries have achieved full compliance by the October 26 deadline, while other countries like Italy and France still have limited digital photo production capabilities in operation. Most of the VWP countries have produced passports with digital photos integrated into the data page of the passport. 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 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. Passport guidelines and samples showing what to look for to determine if a passport is in compliance can be viewed on the DHS website.

The next step in the DHS overhaul of passport design requirements for VWP countries is for 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. The deadline for the e-passports is October 26, 2006.

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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