Biometric reprieve granted

The House approved by voice vote June 14 a one-year deadline extension for visa-waiver countries to have machine-readable, tamper-resistant passports with embedded biometric identifiers.

Most of the 27 countries, whose citizens do not need visas to enter the United States, will have until Oct. 26, 2005, to have tamper-resistant entry and exit documents ready.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) sponsored a bill that amended the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 that required such countries to develop passports with biometrics. Face mapping is currently the only internationally recognized standard.

Bush administration officials had been lobbying for a two-year extension because they said the countries needed more time to achieve the technologically complex goal. The officials said the other countries are willing to meet the requirements.

Several House lawmakers have said they favored an extension for economic reasons. They said if the deadline had not been extended, travelers from visa-waiver countries that did not have such passports may not be inclined to visit the United States, thereby reducing tourism, education and business dollars.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) introduced similar legislation to extend the deadline by two years. The bill has been referred to the Judiciary Committee.

Yesterday, Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas) introduced legislation to extend the deadline by a year. He also said that watch list databases should be used to screen travelers before they're allowed to enter the country.

Homeland Security Department officials will begin processing travelers from visa waiver countries through the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program Sept. 30.

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