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US grants one-year delay for biometric passports

Machine-readable passports can be used without a visa until October 2005

(Keystone)

Swiss nationals with machine-readable passports can continue travelling to the United States for up to 90 days without a visa until October 2005.

Countries with visa-waiver agreements with the US – including Switzerland – have been given an extra year to start issuing biometric passports.

These passports, which are expected to include face recognition and fingerprint identification features, are designed to prevent terrorists from taking advantage of easier entry restrictions in place for some countries.

The 27 nations affected have until October 26 next year to start issuing biometric passports under a US law designed to tighten border security after the September 11 attacks.

Extension granted

Washington granted the extension after concluding that most of the countries whose citizens are permitted to visit the US without a visa for up to 90 days would miss the original deadline of October 26, 2004.

The legislation also gives US ports of entry an extra year to install equipment and software capable of processing biometric data.

The Swiss authorities are currently assessing the possibility of introducing biometric passports. A feasibility study is underway and is due to be completed before the autumn.

Around 1.1 million Swiss are in possession of machine-readable passports.

Deadline looms

Anyone without a machine-readable passport will need to apply for a visa to visit the US from October 26.

In April the Bush administration said it would begin fingerprinting and photographing visitors from visa-waiver countries, extending a policy that applies to most foreigners who visit the US.

This has angered Swiss politicians and data protection officials who are concerned about the misuse of sensitive personal information.

US officials have insisted that the storage of biometric data would be rigorously protected.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The extension applies to Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

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