The United States has extended the Visa Waiver Program for another year for 25 of the 27 countries in the program, allowing citizens with a machine-readable passport to continue to enter the U.S. without applying for a visa.
The decision was announced by the Department of Homeland Security after a review in which it was determined that those countries had met requirements set by Congress, allowing their continued participation. Two other participating countries, Italy and Portugal, will be reviewed on a different timetable, and their status will be determined at a later date.
As part of the review, the department looked at information relating to terrorism, criminal activities, illegal immigration, and alien smuggling.
In addition, an October 26, 2005, deadline has passed, meaning all new passports issued to VWP travelers must be machine-readable and contain digital photographs. A digital photo is printed on the page, not glued or laminated onto the passport. Visitors with passports issued after October 26 who don't meet these requirements will have to obtain visas to travel to the U.S. The Department of Homeland Security has warned VWP travelers that if they arrive in the United States without the proper passport, they "should not anticipate" being allowed to enter the country.
In addition, transportation carriers will be fined up to $3,300 per violation for transporting to the United States VWP travelers that don't meet the passport requirements.
Visa Waiver Program countries face another deadline next October 26, after which new passports will have to include biometric data in order for their holders to travel to the U.S. without a visa. Biometric passports, or e-passports, contain an integrated computer chip capable of storing biographic information from the data page, a digitized photograph, and other biometric information.