USA forced to put off demand for biometric passports for EU visitors for two years

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The US government has puts off its demand that visitors from the EU should have biometric passports by October 2004 until November 2006. This is primarily because it there is no way the deadline can be met. The most pro-biometric passports governments like the UK are talking about starting to issue them from 2007 and it will take up to ten years for every passport-holder to have one.

At present visitors from 27 countries in the US "Visa Waiver Program" (VWP, including those in the EU) enter the USA scheme - they will have to have a machine-readable passport (which most do) from October 2004 but do not have to apply for a visa.Under the US Enhanced Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 countries in the VWP were given a deadline of October 2004 to introduce biometric passports or face - like those arriving from the rest of the world - being subjected to compulsory fingerprints and photographs when they enter.

Announcing the policy change before the US House Judiciary Committee, Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said that to introduce checks on the 27 VWP countries would lead to an extra "5 million applications in 2005" which would represent "a 70% increase in our non-immigrant workload". In the year 2000 only 10% of EU citizens moved to or visited the USA. Powell confirmed that "the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will enrol all VWP travellers in US-VISIT - the program that tracks the entry and exit of foreign visitors by using electronically scanned fingerprints and photographs."

In his speech Powell said there was evidence that fewer people wanted to visit or study in the USA as a result of the travel restrictions and that this was bad for the economy.

The European Commission and EU governments have used the US demands to back their plans for biometric passports (and ID cards) - even though the US demand would have affected a minority of EU citizens who visit the EU every year out of the new total of 450 million people (after 1 May 2004).


1. Powell statement to the House Judiciary Committee, 21 April 2004: Statement
2. USA delays demand for mandatory "machine-readable" passports (September 2003)

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