State Department Extends Deadline to Update Passports to Visa Waiver Program Participants

The U.S. State Department has extended for one more year their target date to limit access to the U.S. to only individuals with machine-readable passports. This extension is directly related to the 27 countries that participate in the visa waiver program. Many of these countries have not yet been able to update their passports to match U.S. proposed regulations.

The countries in the visa waiver program include nations in Western Europe, Japan and Australia, and it is presupposed that the majority of their citizens would not attempt to work in the U.S. illegally.

This extension applies to all but one of the countries participating in the visa waiver program. Belgium cannot apply in this extension. This deadline has applied to Belgium since May 2003, because of U.S. concerns about the security of Belgian passports.

The other 26 countries have been given a new deadline of October 26, 2004, by which they must introduce “biometric identifiers” in the passports of their citizens. These identifiers should include digital data about either the person’s facial features or their fingerprints.

The Visa Waiver Program enables citizens of participating countries to travel to the U.S. for pleasure or business for 90 days or less without officially obtaining a U.S. visa. While most interested parties do not need to apply for a visa, certain exceptions do apply. Some travelers still need to apply for a visa, including people who plan to work or study in the U.S., stay more than 90 days, or people who might otherwise be ineligible for a visa. Travelers who have previously been denied visas, who have criminal records or who may be ineligible to enter the U.S. on the VWP, should contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate before attempting to use the VWP to enter the U.S.

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