The United States may be unwilling to grant another extension to the deadline of October 26, 2005, which requires 27 visa waiver countries to provide their citizens with biometric passports. Once the deadline expires those travelers from countries that have not started to produce biometric passports will have to obtain visas to travel to the United States when their current passports have expired.

U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., (R-Wis.), in a March 31 letter, told Franco Frattini, vice president of the European Commission, that the chances of Congress considering a further extension to the deadline are "unlikely." Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, was responding to a letter from Frattini urging the United States to extend the deadline because several European Union countries will not be able to begin biometric passport production before October 26.

Sensenbrenner "is all-powerful on this issue," acknowledges Rick Webster, director, government affairs, the Travel Industry Association of America, which is lobbying for a further extension of the deadline. "We’re optimistic he will eventually agree to some kind of extension."

Webster’s rationale? The United Kingdom and Japan, two of the Bush Administration’s strongest allies in the war on terror, will not be able to meet the October deadline. "I can’t see us abandoning key allies," Webster says. He’s hopeful an extension of between six months and one year will eventually be agreed upon. In other passport news, The U.S. State Department last week announced the North American Travel Initiative, which requires all U.S. citizens, as well as citizens of Canada, Bermuda, and Mexico to have a passport or other accepted secure document to enter or reenter the United States by January 1, 2008. A license or birth certificate, which are currently valid identification for travel to and from these countries, will no longer suffice. This initiative comes out of the 9/11 Intelligence Bill, which was signed into law last December. Webster foresees a potential negative impact on U.S.-bound travel from Canada (only 40 percent of Canadians have passports). It also prompted Canadian officials to announce that they might reciprocate. Webster also points out that since an estimated 80 percent of Americans do not have passports, the initiative could have an effect on Americans who travel on cruise lines active in the Caribbean. "Conceptually we have no objection [to the initiative]," Webster says. "We’re hoping there will be sufficient lead time to educate and promote the need for passports."