U.S. imposing more security as international travel increases

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

WASHINGTON -- The United States is about to impose new security regulations on international travelers just as the country is experiencing its first increase in such visitors since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Two regulations affecting travelers from 22 European nations, plus Australia, Brunei, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore, will be kicking in the next two months.

Starting the end of September, travelers from those countries, known as visa waiver countries, will be fingerprinted and photographed when they enter the United States at major airports and seaports. The United States already fingerprints and photographs travelers required to have visas to enter the country.

Starting Oct. 26, all travelers from the visa waiver countries must have passports with coding that is machine-readable.

"That includes children," said Janice Jacobs, deputy assistant secretary of state.

The deadlines come after the busy summer travel season. They will affect some 13.5 million people who travel annually to the United States from visa waiver countries, said Asa Hutchison, undersecretary for border and transportation security at the Homeland Security Department.

Travel to the United States is expected to be up 5.3 percent by the end of this year, said Cathy Keefe, spokeswoman for the Travel Industry Association of America.

Four of the five countries that provide the most international travelers to the United States are visa waiver countries -- the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany and France. The fifth is South Korea. Citizens from visa waiver countries are allowed to travel to the United States on passports.

The U.S. rebound in international travel has been led by visitors from the United Kingdom, whose trips to the United States totaled 3.9 million last year, up 3 percent, Keefe said. Travel experts estimate 4.3 million U.K. citizens will travel to the United States next year.

Keefe said world economic problems and travelers staying closer to home contributed to the 2001-03 decline. But it also was affected by "the hassle factor of getting into the U.S."

"They had a number of new initiatives introduced, many of them very abruptly, and I think a very negative message was sent to travelers," she said. Keefe said her organization supports the security measures but works to assure they don't significantly disrupt travel.

She was uncertain how the new requirements would affect travel to the United States, saying it would depend on whether the measures lead to long waits or travel delays.

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