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US delays bio-passport requirement

UK gets another year to conform to visa waiver programme

The US has given the UK a further year to begin issuing passports with biometric identification information. The 26 other countries covered by the US visa waiver programme have also got 12-months’ grace.

Under the programme the country had planned to require biometric passports issued from 26 October for admission into the US. The deadline wouldn't have affected existing and valid passports issued before the date.

Biometric passports contain a non-contact chip in which all the information from the passport's data page is stored, along with a digital photograph of the holder and as-yet unspecified additional data. This could include a fingerprint.

The visa waiver programme allows people from 27 countries to enter the States for up to 90 days without a visa. It was used by 15 million people in 2004, according to US government figures.

The deadline for the issuance of biometric passports has now been pushed back to 26 October 2006.

The US had originally planned to require biometric passports from October 2004. However, this was previously delayed by a year until October 2005. Despite the first hiatus, regulations were toughened and the US began requiring machine-readable passports which contain two lines of text that can be scanned by a computer, and specify basic data such as the passport number, holder's name and nationality.

Like the previous delay, the latest halt comes with a new requirement: that all passports used under the visa waiver programme have a digital photograph. Unlike the biometric plan, the new digital photo requirement and last year's machine-readable request apply to all visitors travelling under the programme – not just those with passports issued after the.

The 27 countries covered by the programme are: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.

The various passport requirements don't affect visitors travelling to the US from the 27 countries who posses visas, or those travelling from other countries.

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