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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

R 161748Z MAR 04
FM SECSTATE WASHDC
TO ALL DIPLOMATIC AND CONSULAR POSTS
SPECIAL EMBASSY PROGRAM
AMEMBASSY DUSHANBE
AMEMBASSY KABUL
AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
AMEMBASSY BUJUMBURA
AMEMBASSY PORT AU PRINCE 
UNCLAS STATE 058050


FOR CONSULAR SECTION CHIEFS AND NIV CHIEFS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: CVIS, CMGT
SUBJECT: BIOMETRIC AND MACHINE-READABLE PASSPORT
REQUIREMENTS FOR VWP TRAVELERS BEGINNING OCTOBER 26, 2004

REF: A) STATE 16751 B) 03 STATE 345354

SUMMARY
-------

1. In response to queries from several sources, this cable
summarizes and reiterates previous guidance on passport
requirements for Visa Waiver Program (VWP) travelers. Ref
A clarified that none of these requirements apply to NIV
applicants, but only to VWP travelers applying for visa-
free entry at a US POE. This cable discusses the October
26, 2004 deadline, by which time VWP travelers will be
required to present machine-readable passports (MRPs).
That date also marks the deadline by which VWP countries
will be required to have a biometric passport program, and
VWP travelers will be required to present passports
incorporating biometric identifiers, if their passports
were issued on or after October 26, 2004. This cable is
not new guidance, but is meant only as clarification.
End summary.


TWO REQUIREMENTS WITH A COMMON DEADLINE
---------------------------------------

2. Machine-readability and biometrics are not the same
thing. A machine-readable passport is one that can be
"read" mechanically when swiped through a passport reader.
It contains two lines of text on the bottom of the data
page which, when read, populate the bio-data fields for the
data entry clerk in the Consular Section or the Immigration
Inspector at the port of entry (POE).

3. The Visa Waiver Permanent Program Act of October 30,
2000 established a deadline of October 1, 2007 when VWP
travelers would be required to present an MRP for visa-free
entry. The USA PATRIOT Act advanced that date to October
1, 2003, but provided waiver authority for the Department
of State. In September 2003, the Secretary exercised that
authority and waived the MRP requirement for most VWP
travelers until October 26, 2004. (For nationals of
Andorra, Belgium, Brunei, Liechtenstein and Slovenia, the
requirement is already in force). Beginning October 26,
2004, all VWP travelers must present an MRP for visa-free
entry.

4. The October 26, 2004 date of the MRP waiver was chosen
to coincide with a second VWP requirement, that of a
biometric passport. A "biometric" or a "biometric
identifier" is an objective measurement of a physical
characteristic of an individual which, when captured in a
database, can be used to verify identity or check against
other entries in the database. The best known biometric is
the fingerprint, but others include facial recognition and
iris scans. A biometric passport will take a biometric (in
the case of VWP, the standard determined by the
International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), is facial
recognition technology) and store it on a contactless chip
embedded in the passport. The POE inspector can scan the
passport to obtain the passenger's biodata. The passport
can thus be read in three ways: with the MRP reader, with
the biometric scanner, and the old fashioned way with human
eyes.


BIOMETRIC PASSPORTS -- MORE THAN JUST HAVING A PROGRAM
------------------------------------------------------

5. Unlike the MRP requirement, which applies to all VWP
arrivals beginning on October 26, 2004, the biometric
requirement applies only to VWP travelers whose passports
were issued that day or later. A passport issued on or
before October 25, 2004 will be valid for VWP entry to the
U.S. after October 26 as long as it is machine-readable.
If it is not machine-readable, the VWP national must obtain
a visa. A passport issued on or after October 26, 2004
must not only be machine-readable but also contain a
biometric; otherwise, the traveler is not eligible to use
VWP and must obtain a visa.

6. Some confusion may exist over the biometric requirement
because it is implemented in two separate steps. First,
the VWP country must certify that it has a biometric
program in order to continue its participation in VWP after
October 26, 2004. Second, individual travelers must
present an MRP with biometrics, if the passport was issued
on or after October 26, 2004. The fact that the country
has a biometric passport program does not guarantee VWP
entry after October 26, even if the individual's passport
is machine-readable. If issued on or after October 26,
2004, the individual's passport must be both machine-
readable and contain a biometric identifier.


WHICH VWP COUNTRIES WILL MEET THE BIOMETRIC DEADLINE?
-------------------------------------------------

7. Almost none. Australia and New Zealand may make the
deadline. Some countries have indicated that implementing
a biometrics program might have been possible by October
26, but they are putting on the brakes because of questions
of interoperability (can a U.S. POE scanner read a Danish
biometric chip?) that remain unresolved. Most, including
the major VWP countries in terms of travel such as Japan
and the UK, simply cannot overcome the hard-technology
hurdles of designing, testing, and rolling out biometric
passports on a large scale until late 2005, possibly later.
Although some countries will not be issuing biometric
passports by October, they will be certified as having a
program if they meet certain requirements and can
demonstrate that they are actively pursuing development of
biometric passports. VWP countries were asked to so
certify in reftel B.

8. Unlike with the MRP requirement, there is no legal
provision for waiver of the biometric passport requirement.
CA is aware of the difficulties this requirement will cause
overseas, and is working to address the issue. We will
keep posts advised.



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