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DOS/DHS Asks Congress to Extend Deadline for VWP Passport Biometrics

Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 04040563 (posted Apr. 5, 2004)"

Press Statement
Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
April 2, 2004

Department of State and Department of Homeland Security Request Extension of Requirement for Biometric Passport Issuance by Visa Waiver Program Countries

The Departments of State and Homeland Security have asked Congress to pass legislation to extend for two years the requirement for Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries to include biometrics in passports issued on or after October 26, 2004. The requirement for Visa Waiver travelers to have biometrics included in passports issued on or after this date was mandated in the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002. However, many Visa Waiver countries have indicated that they will be unable to produce biometric passports by the congressionally mandated deadline of October 26, 2004, due to technical difficulties. The Departments of State and Homeland Security are requesting a two-year extension to allow the international community adequate time to resolve problems and develop viable programs for producing a more secure, biometrically enabled passport.

Although the addition of biometrics to the U.S. passport is not covered by the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, the Department of State has been working diligently towards developing biometric U.S. passports. However, we have encountered many of the same technical difficulties as the Visa Waiver countries. The current plan is to complete the transition to the U.S. passport with embedded biometrics by the end of 2005.

In the context of requesting this extension, the Department of Homeland Security will also begin enrolling Visa Waiver travelers through the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program at all airports and seaports by September 30, 2004. The US-VISIT system is a fast and easy process that requires two digital index finger scans and a digital photograph from a traveler to verify his or her identity. Since its launch in January 2004, more than two million visitors have been processed without adversely affecting wait times.

The Department of State has worked closely with the Visa Waiver countries, all of which are committed to increasing the security of international travelers through machine-readable and biometrically enhanced travel documents. The Administration believes that an extension will avoid the potential disruption to international travel if Visa Waiver travelers are required to obtain visas, while enrollment in US-VISIT will help mitigate security concerns related to extending the deadline for biometric passports. The Administration also recognizes the inherent benefits that Visa Waiver visitors contribute to our society and our economic well-being and will continue international efforts to enhance border security while facilitating legitimate travel.



Released on April 2, 2004

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