Statewatch News online: USA delays demand for mandatory "machine-readable" passports

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USA delays demand for mandatory "machine-readable" passports

Much attention has rightly been focused on US demands that everyone entering the USA from 26 October 2004 has to have a passport containing personal biometric data. However, another US measure which was due to come into place on 1 October 2003 has been put back to 1 October 2004.

It amends the conditions under which citizens from 14 EU countries (excluding Greece) can enter under the "Visa Waiver Programme". The first amendments affect all citizens from the 14 EU states and says that they must be in possession of a "machine readable passport" (MRP) - this refers to the two-lines of text at the bottom of the inside back page of standard EU passports. This will be the only document which will be recognised - thus excluding identity cards or other documents.

EU citizens with a "machine readable passport" will be able to enter for business or pleasure without a visa. But a special provision has been inserted to exclude EU journalists from the "Visa Waiver Programme". However, as previously: "Representatives of the foreign press, radio, film or other information media require a nonimmigrant Media (I) visa and cannot travel to the U.S. using the visa waiver program.".

Edward Hasbrouck, who tracks developments in the USA, comments:

"Enforcement of the machine-readable passport requirement for visa-free entry to the USA will be postponed from 1 October 2003 to 1 October 2004 for those countries that (1) are already in the USA visa waiver program, (2) specifically request a postponement for their citizens, and (3) commit themselves in writing to machine-readable passports with biometric data (apparently a photo might be considered "biometric" info, so this provision may have limited effect) by 1 October 2004.

Note that the rule itself is not being postponed or repealed - this is merely an enforcement grace period for those countries already in the preferential entry program and promising to comply with the USA demand.

All citizens of all other countries, including those in international transit (e.g. changing planes in Miami en route from Latin America to Europe, or in L.A. en route to Asia) will still (1) need visas and (2) need to present themselves for an in-person interview at a USA consulate as part of the visa application porcess. Visas often are not issued at the same time as the interview, so they might need to return to the consulate again once their visa is approved. And in many large countries (e.g. Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Russia, China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, etc.) large areas are more than 1000 miles from the nearest USA consulate."

Edward Hasbrouck:

Machine-readable passport requirements, see: and the State Department briefing (links)

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