Reps. seek biometric delay

Department of State Visa Waiver Program

House lawmakers introduced bipartisan legislation giving visa-waiver countries one more year to include biometric features in their passports.

"I believe a one-year extension provides the [Visa Waiver Program] countries sufficient time to meet this deadline while reinforcing the commitment of the Congress and the Bush administration to improving the security aspects of the VWP," said F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) in a press release. He is House Judiciary Committee chairman and the bill's prime sponsor.

He added that he expected swift approval of the legislation, which has six co-sponsors, in early June.

The program allows citizens from 27 countries to visit the United States without requiring a visa. The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 established Oct. 26, 2004, as the deadline when travelers from those countries must begin carrying tamper-resistant, machine-readable passports with biometric identifiers, such as facial mapping. This biometric was adopted as an international standard last year by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

If countries don't meet the deadline, then would-be travelers would have to apply for a visa. Advocates for an extension have said that would not only place an additional burden on the overtaxed visa application system but also would cause local U.S. economies to suffer if international tourists feel travel becomes too difficult.

About a month ago, State Department Secretary Colin Powell and Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge testified before the House Judiciary Committee arguing for a two-year extension. They said producing passports embedded with biometric features is technologically complex and countries need more time.

Some of the countries affected include Australia, Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

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