updated 3/28/2005 12:20:52 PM ET 2005-03-28T17:20:52

Only a handful of nations are expected to meet a U.S. deadline for issuing high-tech passports, raising fresh concerns that millions more visitors to the U.S. will need visas to enter the country from October.

The U.S. will require visas for travelers from 27 currently visa-exempt countries if they do not start producing the new biometric passports by Oct. 26.

The biometric passports, which include a digital photograph embedded on a chip, were proposed by the U.S. in a bid to improve border controls in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

In Asia, Japan has already made clear it will not be ready with the passports for a year. Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Brunei are also required to introduce the high-tech passports.

In Europe, the U.K. and France are set to miss the deadline and will face an embarrassing block on visa-free access.

According to the European Commission only Belgium, Germany, Austria, Finland, Sweden and Luxembourg will be in a position to start issuing the biometric passports from October.

The failure of the majority of the 27 visa-exempt countries to produce high-tech passports by the deadline could cause difficulties for the travel industry and might mean that the U.S. loses millions of dollars in tourism spending.

Several countries have warned of the difficulties they face in producing the high-tech passports on time. Last year they urged the U.S. Congress to extend the deadline by two years. It agreed to a one year extension.

The technology, including the digital photograph, will help authorities verify a traveler's identity. They will compare an image taken of the traveler on arrival to details encrypted on the chip.

But there are fears about the reliability of the technology and how the information will be stored.

In addition, the international community has not agreed a common standard on security features, with only some passports featuring fingerprints.

The U.S. will start issuing the new high-tech passports to its citizens this year but full roll-out is unlikely until the end of 2006, according to the State Department.

The Department of Homeland Security insisted it was making "very dramatic progress" on its work with countries developing the documents, as part of its drive to tighten border security.

The U.S. last year began fingerprinting and photographing travelers from the 27 visa-free countries arriving at international airports. It did so in exchange for allowing the countries another year to issue the high-tech passports.

© The Financial Times Ltd 2013. "FT" and "Financial Times" are trademarks of the Financial Times.


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