Since April 1, 2016, all eligible travelers who wish to visit the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) have been required to hold a biometric passport (e-passport).
A biometric passport is necessary to apply for ESTA, the essential travel authorization for visa-free access to the US. This means that only citizens of VWP countries who hold an electronic passport can take advantage of the scheme.
Visitors who do not currently hold an ePassport and would like to travel to the U.S. with an electronic travel authorization need to renew their travel document before proceeding with the ESTA application.
Continue reading to find out more about US biometric passport requirements and why an ePassport is required for ESTA.
There are also tips for taking a photograph that meets the standard biometric passport photograph specifications.
Biometric passports have gradually replaced machine-readable passports in recent years. Most VWP countries, including the UK and EU nations, now issue biometric passports.
The main difference between the traditional passport and a biometric, or ePassport, is that the latter contains a microprocessor chip. The chip, which is embedded inside the passport, contains information about the holder including:
This data is also contained in the machine-readable lines on both types of passport.
Certain biometrics such as measurements of a person’s unique physical features are securely stored in the chip, this information is missing from the old version.
Biometric passports can be identified by looking for the e-passport symbol on the front cover.
The principal advantage of the electronic passport is that it offers increased security. Biometric data is gathered by measuring the distance between specific points on the face, this information is then stored on the electronic chip embedded in the passport.
On arrival at the ePassport gates, travelers scan the document and look at a screen, their facial measurements are compared with those on the chip to check that they match.
As biometric data is unique to the passport holder it ensures that the travel document can only be used by the owner, significantly reducing the possibility of identity fraud if the passport was stolen in the U.S. or elsewhere.
This automated system also removes the human error element associated with manual passport checks and speeds up border control procedures.
The ESTA system works by prescreening visa-free travelers before they enter the United States. Applicants are required to provide some basic personal details and passport information which is checked against security databases.
On approval, the ESTA authorization is linked electronically to the traveler’s passport, requiring the biometric chip. Conveniently, the travel authorization can be automatically verified when the passport is scanned at the border.
Individuals who are renewing their passport in order to travel to the US under the visa waiver program should ensure their photograph meets biometric passport photo criteria.
The following are general guidelines, applicants should check the specific requirements of the issuing country.
The standard biometric passport regulation is to submit at least two identical photos, produced by the same film or printed from the same electronic file.
After receiving the new biometric passport, the traveler can apply for ESTA. The application process is fully online and quick to complete.
Once approved the permit is linked to the passport and remains valid for 2 years, a new ESTA is required if the passport expires within this time period. It is a multiple-entry permit and can be used to stay in the United States for up to 90 days without a visa.