Beginning Friday, individuals traveling to the United States on the Visa Waiver Program must carry fraud-resistant electronic passports (e-passports), even if they have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

U.S. embassies and consulates are reminding foreign nationals traveling to the U.S. on the Visa Waiver Program to check their passports before the upcoming change takes effect.

What is an e-passport? E-passports contain an electronic chip with biographic and biometric information, and are indicated by a symbol on the cover of the passport. Travelers may check if their passport is valid, and view the e-passport symbol, on the State Department’s Visa Waiver Program webpage.

Background: Several new restrictions to the Visa Waiver Program, including the e-passport requirement, became law in December. The program currently allows nationals of 38 participating countries to be pre-screened and obtain an ESTA without having to apply for a visa at a consulate. While most countries issue e-passports, many older passports do not meet the new legal standards and individuals may need to have them replaced with an e-passport.

BAL Analysis: All travelers planning to travel to the U.S. using the Visa Waiver Program – including those with a valid ESTA – should confirm that they hold an e-passport before boarding their flight. Those who do not have an e-passport must apply for a visitor visa and attend an interview at a U.S. consular post.

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