Delay Scannable Passport Rule; Visa Waiver Travel Helped
September 11, 2003
Murkowski in August was joined by four other senators, including Sen. Ted Stevens, in asking for a delay in the implementation of regulations for citizens of certain countries to possess machine readable passports or be unable to enter the United States without a visa. The deadline for the machine readable passport requirement was accelerated following the Sept. 11 attacks.
The waiver program currently allows citizens from 27 countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business purposes for up to 90 days without having to engage in the time-consuming process of applying for and receiving visas from American embassies abroad. The program has been credited with increasing tourism travel to America by reducing the lead time necessary in travel planning.
Among other requirements, in order to qualify for VWP participation, the refusal rate for nationals of a country who have applied at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in that country must average less than 3 percent for the previous fiscal year. These countries must also provide reciprocal visa-free travel for U.S. citizens.
While post Sept. 11th legislation had accelerated the deadline for visa waiver participants to implement machine readable passport programs from Oct. 1, 2007 to this fall, the State Department had been given authority to waive the earlier deadline. Only this summer did it became clear that the Department was planning to enforce the new deadline.
Murkowski, in an Aug. 1 letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, warned that few nations could meet with the early implementation deadline. She added that airline personnel also haven't been trained to distinguish between machine readable passports and traditional documents.
"Many of the countries that participate in the visa waiver program are among our closest allies and the home nations of the vast majority of international visitors to the United States. The notice period has been insufficient to ensure that travelers are informed or to allow nations to comply. Given that the State Department will require all visa-seekers to participate in an in-person interview, travelers are likely to face lengthy delays to gain visas, deterring them from coming to our country.
"The prospect of visitors being detained or turned away from our country in droves is disconcerting and sends an undesirable message to our allies that the United States is 'closed for business,'" said Murkowski. She noted that international tourism to America is already down 70 percent to $8.6 billion in the wake of 2001's terrorism event. "We simply can't afford to erect barriers that will cause legitimate travelers to give up on the U.S. and go elsewhere to avoid real or perceived hassles," added Murkowski in her letter to Powell.
The Homeland Security Department announced it was delaying the passport rule implementation until Oct. 26, 2004, giving nations another year to comply. While Japan might have complied, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland among many others would have missed the deadline.
Note: Those countries currently participating in the Visa Waiver Program include: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
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