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MachineReadable Passport Procedures to be Implemented
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Beginning October 26, 2004, officers from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Customs and Border Protection will begin enforcing requirements that travelers applying for admission under the Visa Waiver Program must be in possession of a machine-readable passport. Following procedures announced today, if, after October 26, 2004, a Visa Waiver Program national presents him or herself for admission to the United States without a machine-readable passport or non-immigrant visa, a Customs and Border Protection officer is permitted to grant a one-time exemption to admit the traveler to the United States. The traveler will be issued a letter explaining the U.S. entry requirements and his or her passport will be annotated that a one-time exemption has been granted.

“These interim procedures will allow U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers to effectively enforce the law and exercise discretion when appropriate,” said Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security Asa Hutchinson. “These are prudent steps to ease travelers into these new documentation requirements. The United States is a welcoming nation and we do not want to turn people away because they do not possess the newly required passport or a valid non-immigrant visa

When granting the exemption, CBP officers will notify the traveler of the requirement for a machine-readable passport or that they can obtain a non-immigrant visa for subsequent visits. If a traveler fails to obtain a machine-readable passport or a non-immigrant visa for subsequent visits, they may be refused entry under the VWP.

Each VWP applicant must present an individual machine-readable passport. This is a change for family members who have applied for admission under one passport in the past. As announced last year, families must have individual machine-readable passports for everyone, including children. CBP officers can apply the same one-time exemption to families as well.

The new machine-readable document requirement had been scheduled to go into effect last year. Since the U.S. announced it was extending the implementation date from October 1, 2003, until October 26, 2004, VWP countries have been taking steps to issue machine-readable passports and to communicate information about these new requirements to their citizens. To help their citizens comply with the new document requirements, some countries are even offering to issue new machine-readable passports on the spot to their citizens at departure airports.

Through April 25, 2005, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will not impose fines on transportation carriers for transporting VWP travelers from 22 countries to the U.S. without a machine-readable passport. The 22 countries are: Austria, Australia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

Congress has extended the deadline for the inclusion of biometrics in VWP-country passports until October 26, 2005. This does not affect the current requirements for machine-readable passports. An estimated 13 million visitors from Visa Waiver Countries enter the U.S. each year. Travelers from Visa Waiver Countries are allowed to enter the U.S. for up to 90 days for business or pleasure using only a passport.

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