Biometric Passports

Under Department of Homeland Security guidelines implemented in April 2016, some visitors to the U.S. could be denied entry without biometric passports.

  • Published 6 May 2016
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People traveling to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program could be turned away due to new requirements involving biometric passports, or ePassports.

I saw this on a FB post of one of my friends. It does no sound right. Could you find out. Thank you in advance. This needs passing around far and wide and will affect anyone in the UK who doesn't have a biometric passport (also known as an e-passport) if flying to the USA. I was supposed to be on a flight this morning travelling to Florida for a holiday with my family booked through Thomson's, we saved long and hard for this holiday and filled in all the neccessary online forms including API and ESTA's only a couple of weeks ago only to turn up at the check in desk to be advised that I would not be allowed to travel as I did not have a biometric passport whilst the rest of our family had them, despite calls to the USA from the lady on check in they would not permit travel. This is a change that came into force from USA Homeland Security on the 1st April 2016 which nobody including Thomson's seemed to be aware of until they were confronted with it on the day it came into force. Yet a month on Thomson's are still not advising people who have booked with them of the change and on calling their ''Customer Services'' if you can call it that they are just placing the onus back on the passenger citing ''it is the travellers responsibility to check everything is valid for travel'' Do a Google search, it isn't mentioned on the Gov website, it isn't mentioned on Thomson's website either. My passport was in date and had more than 6 months on it and I had filled out the ESTA's which were all approved. We were then advised that if we still wished to travel on another date that we would have to pay an extra £150 each to transfer the booking. with no alternative I advised the rest of our party to go without me and I would try and see what I could do and look to meet up with them at the earliest available date which looks like being Wednesday next week from a different airport. I have now spent best part of 3 hours on the phone being passed from pillar to post and had to fork out over £500 to try and get to the US on Wednesday to meet up with a very distraught family to try and rescue a totally ruined holiday. Has anyone else suffered the same issue? What if any legal redress do we have? So just to be clear, if you are travelling to the USA you won't be allowed to travel if you have a non biometric passport. The Biometric Passport has a camera logo on the front cover in the centre at the bottom of the page for those who may be unaware of the difference and were introduced gradually from 2006 onwards I am telling the world and his dog to raise awareness as it is clear that Thomson don't give two monkeys about customer care.

Collected via e-mail, May 2016


What's True

The United States requires travelers entering the United States under the Visa Waiver Program have e-Passports (biometric passports) if their passport was issued on or after October 26, 2006; as the last non-ePassports were issued in 2007, a number of travelers could be denied entry to the United States; at some point in 2017, only ePassports will be valid due to a requirement that passports be renewed every 10 years.

What's False

Many passport holders weren't affected by the 1 April 2016 enforcement change, as their passports already had the requisite chip.


On 1 May 2016, Facebook user Vic Ryan published the above-reproduced commentary, saying that an upcoming vacation to the United States was disrupted by a biometric passport requirement that had gone undisclosed by his travel agency.

Ryan said he was the only member of his group affected by the biometric passport rule change, and while his passport was still valid for six months, he was unable to use it to get into the U.S. due to new standards there in passport technology; his claims were generally accurate.  New, tighter U.S. laws introduced in late 2015 and implemented on 1 April 2016 mean that travelers to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (such as visitors from the United Kingdom) need to update their passports if they still have an older-style passport:

New legislation introduced in the wake of the San Bernardino shootings means British citizens intending to travel to the US with passports more than nine years old could be turned away at the airport.

As of 1 April 2016, tourists must have biometric passports if they want to visit the US under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which allows travellers from 38 approved nations to apply for and receive a 90-day visa online.

The change came as part of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, intended to tighten border security amid fears that terrorists could take advantage of the relaxed requirements to enter the US.

Ryan provided further details about his passport trouble to The Independent, maintaining that several other travelers found themselves ineligible to enter the United States during the same time, and for the same reason:

Vic Ryan from Lincoln was due to fly to to Florida on 1 May, along with his wife and his daughter and her boyfriend. He had applied in good time for an “Esta”, which was granted.

But when he arrived at check-in he was told that as his passport was non-biometric, he would not be allowed to travel.

“We had no notification of this change which apparently came into force on 1 April,” he told The Independent. “We made the decision for the rest of my party to go without me and I would come home.”

Mr Ryan was told to get a new passport, which he could not do until Tuesday because of the bank holiday. “There were a number of people at East Midlands Airport in the same situation as me but help was virtually non-existent,” he said.

United Kingdom passports are valid for ten years from the date of issuance, and according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s web site, the e-Passport requirements began nearly ten years ago, which means there is a subset of people from the UK (and other countries) who still could potentially be prevented from traveling to the United States:

The United States requires that travelers entering the United States under the Visa Waiver Program have an e-Passport if their passport was issued on or after October 26, 2006.

According to the Independent, thousands of people are potentially affected, as they are unwittingly still in possession of passports that are not yet biometric:

The last old-style passports were issued in autumn 2007. Using figures from the Passport Office, the Office of National Statistics and the Foreign Office, The Independent has calculated that 1.3m are still in use. As just over 6 per cent of all the overseas trips by British citizens are to the US, 80,000 people are at risk of being denied boarding.

On 6 May 2016, a representative from the Department of Homeland Security told us that new requirements were indeed implemented in late 2015:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection welcomes more than a million international passengers a day to the United States. The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an automated system that assists in determining eligibility to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and whether such travel poses any law enforcement or security risk. Upon completion of an ESTA application, a traveler is notified of his or her eligibility to travel to the United States under the VWP.

The Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 set the April 1, 2016 requirement for all VWP travelers traveling with an ESTA to have a e-passport. E-passports became mandatory for all countries of the VWP on October 26, 2006.

For travelers from VWP countries to travel under VWP with an ESTA, the traveler must possess an e-passport. If a traveler is not in possession of an e-passport, they can still travel to the United States, but must have a valid nonimmigrant visa and a valid passport.

After the law’s passing, CBP began posting on our website and on the ESTA website information about the upcoming change and a warning to anyone applying for an ESTA that an e-passport would be required beginning on April 1. CBP encourages travelers to check their passports and their current ESTA status to make sure they are in compliance with the requirement. CBP also sent an email to the applicants whose passports would no longer be valid for travel, as long as a valid email address was on file with their applications.

A number of UK citizens traveling to the United States retained valid (but not biometric) passports issued as late as 2007. The United Kingdom began issuing ePassports in 2006, but didn’t phase out the prior format fully until the following year.  The Department of Homeland Security is recommending that visitors from the UK (or any of the 38 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program) take steps to make sure their passports contain the necessary digital chip and information.