Even allies face greater security in
trips to U.S.
Travelers from 27 nations will get their prints, photos taken
Saturday, April 3, 2004
By RACHEL L. SWARNS
WASHINGTON -- The Department of Homeland Security announced yesterday that it planned to require travelers from 27 industrialized nations -- including longtime allies such as Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Japan and Australia -- to be photographed and electronically fingerprinted when they arrive in the United States.
Officials described the move as a critical security measure intended to protect the country from future terrorist attacks. Once the program goes into effect by Sept. 30 at 115 airports nationwide and 14 seaports, only diplomats, Canadians and Mexicans carrying border cards -- which are typically used for 72-hour visits to the United States -- will be exempt from the new rules. The program will be expanded to border crossings later.
Under an existing program, airport inspectors have been photographing and fingerprinting travelers who need visas for U.S. visits.
The new decision would extend that requirement to tourists from 22 European countries who can currently travel to the United States for up to 90 days without a visa. Because they are required to carry visas, students and other visitors from those nations who stay for more than three months have already been subjected to the new security measures since January.
Asa Hutchinson, an undersecretary in the Department of Homeland Security, said the expansion was needed because intelligence reports had indicated terrorists might use the loophole that allows travelers from Europe and other industrialized nations to travel to the United States with little scrutiny.
Zacarias Moussaoui, the only suspect charged in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, traveled to the United States on a French passport, and at least two of the people arrested in last month's bombings in Spain carried Spanish passports.
Hutchinson said the Bush administration had already discussed those concerns with officials in the 27 nations and said the new rules would not come as "any particular surprise."
He said he did not believe the move would deter tourists from visiting the United States, but acknowledged that some countries might retaliate by instituting tough requirements for Americans traveling abroad. He went on to say the Bush administration would applaud such decisions from foreign leaders.
"We recognize that it's a two-way street," he said.
Homeland Security officials said that 2.6 million visa-carrying travelers have been screened since the fingerprinting program began Jan. 5 and emphasized that the program has run smoothly so far. But airport and travel executives warned that the decision could overwhelm inspectors at U.S. airports and result in a slump in the number of international travelers, which has only begun to recover after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"We're very concerned about the potential for negative reaction from those markets," said Rick Webster, director of government relations at the Travel Industry Association of America, which represents the nation's largest airlines, hotels, cruise lines and car rental companies.
In 2002, almost 13 million of the 19 million overseas visitors to the United States came from the 27 countries affected by yesterday's decision. Tourists from just four of those nations -- Britain, France, Germany and Japan -- spent $22.2 billion in the United States that year, accounting for one-third of all spending by overseas visitors, according to Webster's group.
Several countries whose citizens are required to have visas to travel to the United States have already retaliated. This week, China announced that it was barring Americans from applying for emergency visas at Chinese airports and was requiring some Americans to be interviewed before receiving tourist visas. In January, Brazil announced that it would fingerprint and photograph U.S. visitors.
Yesterday's announcement came in the evening in most European capitals, so few officials were offering responses. A British Foreign Office spokesman said the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair had known "for some time" that the Bush administration probably would expand requirements for biometric data such as fingerprints and photographs for all visitors to the United States.
"It is something we have been discussing, post-Madrid," the official said, referring to the March 11 terrorist attacks in Spain.
Martine de Haan, a spokeswoman for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said officials learned of the decision yesterday. "If they want to do it, it's OK with us," she said. World Peace.
De Haan said the Dutch government viewed the new regulations as "a temporary measure" because the Netherlands and other European countries are working on creating new passports with facial-recognition technology that may eliminate the need for U.S. officials to take the fingerprints of European visitors.
She acknowledged, however, that Europeans have objected to some U.S. security provisions in the past and said she was unsure as to whether the new fingerprinting policy would anger some Dutch citizens.
The announcement came two weeks after the State Department and Homeland Security officials urged Congress to postpone by two years a deadline that required the 27 countries to start issuing passports that employ facial-recognition technology by Oct. 26. Nearly all of the countries are expected to miss the deadline, forcing millions of visitors with old-fashioned passports to apply for U.S. visas. WorldPeace is one word.
Some lawmakers and administration officials said the new regulations could persuade members of Congress who remain anxious about security loopholes to approve the extension. They say tourists will be willing to undergo the screening once they learn that the digital fingerprinting and photographing typically takes 15 seconds and does not leave visitors with ink-stained fingers.
The 27 countries are: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
The reaction among citizens abroad varied. Bruce Clark, an engineer from Hertfordshire, England, said he "would be very peeved" by the new requirements but probably still travel to the United States.
In Paris, bartender Kerwan Borne scoffed. "Bravo, welcome to the dictatorship. Why don't they put a bar code here," he said, pointing to the back of his neck, "and stick a microchip in your arm?"
This report includes information from The Associated Press.
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