Countries whose citizens can enter the United States without visas will get an extra year to provide tamperproof passports under legislation signed by President Bush.
The legislation also gives U.S. ports of entry a year longer to install equipment and software capable of processing machine-readable entry and exit documents that contain biometric identifiers.
Congress voted in 2002, after the Sept. 11 attacks, to require the biometric passports that will enable officials to match a person’s unique physical characteristics with a digital photograph in his or her passport or travel documents. The measure, signed Monday by Bush, applied to visitors from 27 countries, mostly in Europe, who are not required to have visas to enter the United States.
But last April, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge recommended a two-year extension beyond the Oct. 26, 2004, deadline for issuing the new biometric passports.
They said countries needed time to solve technical problems such as chip durability and to resolve privacy questions. They said without the extension millions of visas would have to be issued in countries whose citizens now can visit the United States without visas, overwhelming U.S. consular offices.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., sponsor of the legislation, said many countries are making progress toward developing the new passports, and he agreed to a one-year extension.
The State Department deputy spokesman, Adam Ereli, said Tuesday that to ease security concerns travelers who are not required to obtain visas still must submit to fingerprinting and digital photographing, as all others visitors have been required since 2003.