• Machine-Readable Passport for Visa Waiver Program Mandatory as of October 1, 2003
  • December 6, 2003
  • Law Firm: McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton, Professional Association - Manchester Office
  • The following announcement, issued by the Department of State on July 16, introduces a new requirement for travelers planning visa-free entry to the United States under the Visa Waver Program:

    U.S. Department of State
    Office of the Spokesman
    July 16, 2003 Media Note

    Required Use of Machine-Readable Passport for Visa Waiver Program Travel

    Starting October 1, 2003, travelers entering the United States under the Visa Waiver Program must have a machine-readable passport. Any traveler without a machine-readable passport will be required to obtain a visa before coming to the United States.

    This requirement is mandated by the USA Patriot Act of 2001. Immigration inspectors may deny entry to any traveler attempting to enter on a visa-waiver basis without a machine-readable passport after October 1, 2003.

    Countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program have long been required to have a program for the issuance of machine-readable passports, but the October 1, 2003, requirement makes the use of such a passport mandatory for visa-free entry. It applies to both adults and children. Citizens of Belgium have been required to present a machine-readable passport for visa-waiver entry since May 15, 2003.

    Citizens of Visa Waiver Program countries are permitted to enter the United States for general business or tourist purposes for a maximum of 90 days without needing a visa. The 27 countries currently in the Visa Waiver Program are: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

    A machine-readable passport can generally be identified by the presence of two typeface lines printed at the bottom of the biographical page that can be read by machine. These lines electronically provide some of the information contained on the upper part of the biographical page. The machine-readable passport requirement applies to all categories of passport: regular, official or diplomatic. If a traveler has any doubt about whether a passport qualifies as machine-readable, he or she should check with the passport issuing authority for that country.

    Machine-readable passports enhance security as they can be scanned at entry and exit points to verify the integrity of the passport data. Because machine-readable passports facilitate rapid and precise identification, they enable faster processing of travelers at ports of entry. They also provide for advanced passenger information, so border inspectors can do much of their processing before a flight arrives.

    A traveler who must use a non-machine-readable passport, even if from a Visa Waiver Program country, will have to apply for a non-immigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. The worldwide US-visa application fee is $100 US. The U.S. non-immigrant visa contains machine-readable biographical data.

    The Visa Waiver Program requirements can be found at the Department of State's visa services web site.