State will extend passport deadline for some countries

The State Department has given countries whose citizens cross the borders without visas the opportunity to delay an Oct. 1 deadline to furnish travelers with machine-readable passports.

On Friday, the department told its embassies in so-called visa waiver countries to advise their host nations that it would let those countries delay their conversion to machine-readable passports. Governments must request a postponement and certify that they are actively engaged in moving to the use of machine-readable passports, said Consular Affairs Bureau spokesman Stuart Patt.

It's unclear now whether there will be any postponements, Patt said. There are 27 visa waiver countries, most of them economically developed countries in Europe and Asia. One of those countries, Belgium, already is providing machine-readable passports.

'We want countries to comply not only with the machine readability requirement, but we want to make sure they are working ultimately to provide biometric passports,' he added.

State will give the countries until Oct. 26, 2004, to furnish their citizens with passports that include biometric identification.

The department is offering the deadline extensions partly to prevent travel disruptions, Patt said.

To become a visa waiver country, the 27 countries previously had to show that they had the capability to provide machine-readable passports. But the proportion of travelers from each country who carry such passports varies widely, Patt said. Australia and Japan have provided the machine-readable passports to most of their travelers, he said.

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