The travel industry praised the Administration’s move to postpone for one year a new rule requiring international travelers from Visa Waiver countries to have high-tech machine-readable passports to enter the U.S. The announcement Wednesday evening from the State Department follows a major industry-wide lobbying campaign by the Travel Industry Association of America
(TIA) and several other industry organizations and companies. Visitors from 21 of the 27 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program now have until October 26, 2004 to obtain a new, machine-readable passport.
Although all Visa Waiver countries have begun issuing these new passports, most would not have been able to achieve 100 percent coverage by the October 1, 2003 deadline that had been moved up from the original 2007 date. Five of the eligible Visa Waiver countries did not need the extension because their citizens all have machine-readable passports. The travel industry argued that the new deadline could have cost hundreds of thousands of visitors and millions of dollars in revenue, at a time when inbound international travel to the U.S. is already down significantly. TIA and others in the industry have been working closely with the Departments of State and Homeland Security to make sure that new security measures such as this one achieve the proper balance between homeland and economic security.
“Extending the MRP deadline for these twenty-one countries is one of the most significant actions by the Bush Administration to bolster the U.S. travel industry as we seek to recover from a series of tragedies and challenges,” said William S. Norman, president and ceo of the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA). “TIA and its members are grateful to Secretaries Powell and Ridge for their decisive leadership in extending this deadline and removing a barrier that would have significantly deterred international travel to the U.S.”
All 21 Visa Waiver Program countries granted the postponement were moving toward broader distribution of the machine-readable passport requirement but it had become obvious that the task would take far longer than the October 1, 2003 deadline. TIA and several other industry organizations had been very concerned that travelers from a number of these countries would have experienced difficulty in traveling to the U.S. because of this deadline. TIA appreciates not only the Administration’s action on this matter, but the efforts by so many travel industry organizations and individual companies that lobbied the Administration and Congress on this important matter.
“Once again, the U.S. travel industry has demonstrated that it can achieve significant victories in Washington when we are unified and resolute,” said TIA’s Norman.
The following twenty-one countries now have an October 26, 2004 deadline at which time they will need to present a machine-readable passport for admission to the U.S., or have an older style passport along with a U.S. visa: Australia, Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
The following five countries did not apply for an extension since virtually all their citizens currently have MRP’s: Andorra, Brunei, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, and Slovenia. Belgian travelers entering the U.S. have had to present an MRP beginning May 15, 2003 as part of an earlier review of that country’s procedures with regard to passports and document security.