Bush okays passport delay

R. A. Hettinga rah at shipwright.com
Tue Aug 10 18:21:27 EDT 2004


Herald Sun

Bush okays passport delay
 From correspondents in Washington

US President George W. Bush has agreed to give friendly countries, whose
citizens may travel to the United States without visas, an additional year
to issue high-tech passports that were to have been required for visa-free
visits in October, the State Department said today.

 The delay in the deadline gives the 27 countries currently enrolled in the
so-called Visa Waiver Program until October 26, 2005 to issue passports
that include "biometric indicators" - computer chips with a digitally
encoded record of the bearer's face and possibly fingerprints - so that
their citizens can remain eligible for the scheme, the department said.

 Mr Bush signed the law yesterday and while it is not the two-year delay
requested by his administration, the department said the move would prevent
disruption to travellers and address concerns about the deadline expressed
by the 27 nations in the program.

 "The extension was necessary to avoid potential disruption of
international travel and provide the international community adequate time
to develop viable programs for producing a more secure, biometrically
enabled passport," deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said in a statement.

 The 2002 law that set the original 2004 deadline was aimed at tightening
US border security and immigration procedures after the September 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks whose perpetrators had all come to the US on valid visas.

 But because biometric science is relatively new and rapidly changing, many
visa waiver countries said they could not technologically comply with the
initial deadline, forcing their citizens to apply for previously unneeded
US visas to enter the US for even short visits.

 In April, US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Tom Ridge, the homeland
security secretary, asked Congress for a two-year extension in the
deadline, warning that without it the visa issuance process would be
swamped and the US economy devastated without the delay.

 Not only would consular officials at US embassies abroad be overburdened
but many potential visitors from travelling to the US would likely be
deterred from coming, possibly costing the US travel and tourism industry
billions of dollars in lost revenue, they said.

 To address lawmakers' concerns that the delay might compromise national
security, the Bush administration said it would end, beginning next month,
an exemption for visa waiver country citizens from fingerprinting and
photographing requirements that other foreign nationals are subject to.

 Even with that safeguard, however, Congress did not agree to the two-year
extension requested by Mr Powell and Mr Ridge and the administration was
forced to accept the one-year compromise.

 Countries that participate in the visa waiver program are: Andorra,
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France,
Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco,
the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore,
Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

 Citizens of those nations are allowed to enter the US for up to 90 days
without a US visa.

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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