The National Business Travel Association has been busy on Capitol Hill of late, testifying before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Homeland Security at a hearing last week in support of the Registered Traveler program, as well as supporting an extension of the biometric passport bill.
Registered Traveler pilot programs were implemented at five major airports across the country this past year, and if expanded to a national program, said Bill Connors, executive director and COO of the National Business Travel Association, Registered Traveler would allow security screening resources to be focused more effectively, “promoting better security and better use of air travel security funds” in a press release. In addition, moving Registered Traveler participants to an expedited screening line would speed security screening for all travelers, including those in the standard line, he said.
NBTA has also supported new companion bills introduced to the Senate and the House of Representatives in May, which, if enacted, will extend by one year the deadline to have biometric data included on passports issued by Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries.
As it stands now, countries such as the United Kingdom and Japan—two of the biggest markets for foreign travel into the United States—will not be able to meet the October 26, 2005 deadline for issuing biometric passports.
Travelers from the 27 VWP countries can now enter the U.S. without visas, but once the deadline passes, travelers from countries that are unable to issue passports containing biometric information will have to obtain visas to travel to the U.S. once their current passports expire; if their current passport is machine-readable, they will not need a visa.
Under the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002, the VWP countries were originally required to start issuing the biometric passports by October 26, 2004. When it became clear a vast majority of the countries could not meet that deadline, Congress extended it by a year, and several of those countries are still struggling to get the biometric technology working.
Enactment of the legislation is less than a sure thing. The point man in Congress on biometric passports has been House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., who in May told representatives of the European Commission that the chance of Congress granting an extension is unlikely.