DHS, State want to extend biometric passport deadline

DHS, State want to extend biometric passport deadline

The Homeland Security and State departments have asked Congress to extend an October deadline for economically developed countries to provide biometric passports to citizens travelling to the United States.

The Bush administration wants Congress to extend for two years the biometric passport deadline for travelers from the 27 countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program. The countries are experiencing technical difficulties producing the travel documents, according to an administration statement.

The U.S. government is having similar problems providing biometric passports by a December 2005 deadline, according to the State announcement.

Not all the countries expected to miss the deadline, however.

'In terms of our readiness on production of biometric passports, the United States has acknowledged that Australia was one of a very small number of countries that had the technology and resources to meet the October 2004 deadline,' Australian embassy spokesman Matt Francis said.

State on Friday briefed Australian officials and representatives from several other countries about the plans to request the deadline postponement, Francis said.

'The administration believes that an extension will avoid the potential disruption to international travel if visa waiver travelers are required to obtain visas,' State said.

Congress mandated the biometric passport deadline in the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002.

Many of the waiver program countries told DHS and State months ago that they would have difficulty meeting the deadline. Homeland Security officials had raised the possibility of seeking a deadline extension.

Last month, after a hearing of the House Homeland Security Select Committee, undersecretary for border and transportation security Asa Hutchinson said the administration was considering the need to delay the deadlines.

The administration noted it plans to enroll travelers from the visa waiver countries in the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator System Technology biometric database at all airports and seaports starting Sept. 30.

DHS Customs and Border Protection bureau officers now use U.S. Visit to process only travelers bearing visas. State said the new requirement to fingerprint and photograph visa waiver travelers at the border would ease security concerns that arise if the biometric passport deadline is delayed.

The International Civil Aviation Organization last year selected contactless integrated-circuit chips and facial recognition as the world standards for biometric passport technology [see GCN story]. ICAO specified a 32K minimum storage capacity for the chips; the federal government plans to provide passports with 64K of storage.

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