US: Visa Waiver Program passport requirements take effect April 1

Starting April 1, 2016, all eligible Visa Waiver Program (VWP) travellers, including infants and children, must present an e-Passport – a passport that contains an electronic chip and is machine-readable – when entering the United States.  The requirement is one of a range of enhanced VWP security measures that were enacted in December 2015.

E-Passports have been required of most VWP travellers for several years, and all VWP member countries issue them.  However, travellers whose passports were issued before October 26, 2006 may not meet the new standard and therefore they may need to obtain a new passport to continue using the VWP after March 31, 2016.

An e-Passport can be identified by an international symbol on the front cover.  E-Passports contain an integrated computer chip that stores the passport holder’s biographic data, a biometric identifier, a digital signature and a unique chip identification number.  The data on the chip include two lines of machine-readable information and facial recognition details.  The chip can be scanned to match the passport to the identity of the traveller.

The e-Passport requirement applies only to VWP travellers.  Foreign nationals who hold a U.S. visa are not required to present an e-Passport when entering the United States.

What This Means for Foreign Nationals

If you are a Visa Waiver Program traveller, now is the time to check your passport to make sure it meets program requirements.  If your passport does not bear the international e-Passport symbol on the front cover, you will need to obtain a new passport in order to travel under the VWP after March 31.  If you do not obtain an e-Passport by April 1, you may need to postpone planned VWP travel or obtain a B-1/B-2 visa from a U.S. consulate to enter the United States for business or tourism.

Stuart Beaty

Celsium, Birmingham, UK