Due to recent changes in US immigration law, all passports holders are now required to hold a biometric passport in order to gain entry. The Department of Homeland Security announced that from 1st April 2016, individuals travelling to the US without a biometric passport will no longer be able to enter the US under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
A biometric passport includes an electronic chip that contains digitally coded measurements of the holder’s features. In addition, the passport must be machine-readable, meaning it must have two lines of text at the bottom of the personal information page; the first line confirming the individual”s name and nationality with chevrons (<<<<) and the second including the individuals passport number and chevrons.
The decision to put the rule in place was made at the end of last year under the US Terrorist Travel Prevention Act 2015. It has since come to light that many individuals travelling to the US for business or pleasure have been turned away at airports because their passports did not contain a digital chip and were unaware of the change.
There are 38 countries currently eligible to travel to the US under the VWP and it is estimated that more than a million non-biometric passports are still in use in the UK alone.
Those who wish to travel to the country on non-biometric passports must apply for a non-immigrant visa from their nearest US Embassy or Consulate.
Alternatively, they will be required to apply for a new biometric passport prior to travelling to the US.
Travel companies have been informing individuals flying to the US of this change, however as minimal effort has been made by airline carriers to warn passengers of the new visa requirements, many independent travellers have not been able to board flight because they did not have a biometric passport.
Airline carriers and travel companies have confirmed that individuals are accountable for making sure they have all the documentation needed for their trip.
The US implemented further changes under the US Terrorist Travel Prevention Act 2015 to prevent foreign nationals who have previously travelled to Syria, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Iran from entering the country without a visa. Automatic visa waivers have also been repudiated for foreign citizens who have dual Syrian, Iraqi, Sudanese and Iranian nationality.
A US Customs and Border Protection spokesperson has confirmed they have contacted Esta holders via e-mail, where possible, informing them if their passport details are no longer valid.
The European Union (EU) is stepping up pressure on the US to add more European countries to the list of those whose citizens can travel across the Atlantic without a visa, holding out the threat of requiring American nationals to obtain visas for trips within Europe for pleasure. Under the new changes approximately five countries from the EU are not permitted to travel to the US on the VWP and it has been warned that similar measures may be put in place.
The European Parliament and Commission are predicted to confirm their verdict by July 2016. Currently nationals of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania are required to obtain visas for the US.
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