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U.S. Department
of State

Daily Press Briefing
Richard Boucher, Spokesman
Washington, DC
September 9, 2003

QUESTION: Can you talk about the decision not to enact the passport restrictions on a number of countries, and also whether you're getting responses back from those countries that they will indeed try to enact machine-readable passports within the next year or two to avoid the restrictions?

MR. BOUCHER: First of all, it's a decision that has not yet been made. And the Secretary's not yet made a final decision on whether to grant the postponement to any country's passport holders. But we are considering postponing until October 26th, 2004, the requirement that each Visa Waiver Program traveler must present a machine-readable passport at the U.S. Port of Entry to be admitted to the country without a visa. The Secretary's authority to postpone the effective date for a visa waiver, country's citizens, is contained in the U.S.A. Patriot Act, which legislated the same requirement, that visa waiver travelers have these machine-readable passports.

Visa Waiver Program countries are being asked to send a Diplomatic Note to the Department of State acknowledging that the waiver will be granted only once, and that it would expire on October 26th, 2004. Any country requesting this postponement must also certify that it's making progress towards ensuring that machine-readable passports are available to its nationals, and that it has taken appropriate measures to protect against misuse of non-machine-readable passports. We're also consulting with the Department of Homeland Security before making this decision on one-time waivers.

Citizens of Visa Waiver Program countries are permitted to enter the United States for general business or tourist purposes for a maximum of 90 days without needing a visa. There are 27 countries currently in this program; we can get you a list later. Footnote, Belgium won't be eligible to receive this waiver. That requirement was -- there's been a requirement since May 15, 2003, that Belgian nationals present machine-readable passports. That was stipulated after our review of the continued eligibility of Belgian nationals to participate in the Visa Waiver Program. That was done in February of this year, 2003.

QUESTION: So why are you asking these countries to give you responses if you haven't even decided that you're going to --

MR. BOUCHER: Because in order to make the decision, in order to exercise the waiver, we want to know that they're prepared to do those things. And once we have that information, the Secretary will be in a position to make a final decision on whether to grant the waivers.

QUESTION: Any idea -- what kind of response you've gotten yet?

MR. BOUCHER: No, not yet. We'll have to collect it together and get it to the Secretary when it comes in.


[ ... ]

[ End ]

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