US-VISIT to include visa waivers

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As of Sept. 30, Homeland Security Department officials will require travelers from visa-waiver countries to enroll in the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program.

DHS officials also are asking Congress to extend by two years the Oct. 26 deadline that requires visas to include biometric information. And the Bush administration has asked for biometric passport readers for DHS officials to use at all points of entry.

"In our ongoing collaboration between the departments of State and Homeland Security, we are making two complementary decisions," said Asa Hutchinson, DHS' undersecretary of border and transportation security, in a statement.

Technology-related issues impede most countries' abilities to meet the October deadline for biometric passports, Hutchinson said.

Many observers criticized the Bush administration's initial decision to exclude an estimated 13 million travelers from visa-waiver program countries from the rollout of US-VISIT earlier this year. Including those travelers builds on the department's success with the program's launch, officials said.

"We are encouraged by the progress that has been made by [visa-waiver] countries to introduce biometrics into their passport program, and we will work with them to meet the mandated deadlines," Hutchinson said in the statement.

DHS officials said they are working closely with State on both issues.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) commended the move to include visa-waiver country travelers. He said that including them in US-VISIT will bolster security interviews and inspections of citizens from countries determined to be a lower risk for terrorism.

"This abbreviated process will be greatly strengthened with the incorporation of US-VISIT, especially until such time as all countries participating in the visa-waiver program are issuing their citizens passports with biometric identifiers," Sensenbrenner said in a statement.

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