The Department of Homeland Security has updated its requirements for people travelling to the US under the ESTA waiver program. Travellers are now required to have a biometric or epassport when travelling under the program.
If your passport was issued before 2010 check whether it is a biometric or epassport. On the front of your passport, at the bottom, if there is a rectangular symbol with a circle inside this indicates you have a biometric passport (have a look at the image on the right). For a clear example of this symbol and for more information on what a biometric/epassport is, visit the Department of Homeland Security’s website.
Visa Waiver Program passport requirements:
According to the DHS the following are the passport requirements as of 1st April 2016:
The passport must have a machine-readable zone on the biographic page
The passport must be an electronic passport with a digital chip containing biometric information about the passport owner.
These are part of the Biometric or epassports. Read the Department of Homeland Security’s page for all the information. Travellers without a biometric passport will be blocked from entry to the US if travelling under the Visa Waiver Program. This change has come into affect from the 1st April 2016.
What to watch out for!
It is possible to gain an ESTA when organising your travels to the US without having a biometric passport. So, don’t assume because you have a valid ESTA that your passport is biometric and therefore in the accepted form in order to be admitted to the United States.
There has been some controversy over this change which affects thousands of passengers and yet was little publicised prior to it being put in place. Don’t be caught out this summer – check your passport and get it updated before you fly to the US if needed.