U.S. Expanding Fingerprint Efforts

A program requiring foreigners to be fingerprinted and photographed before entering the country is being expanded to include millions of travelers from some of America's closest allies.

The move affects citizens in 27 countries — including Britain, Japan and Australia — who had been allowed to travel within the United States without a visa for up to 90 days.

Under changes that will take effect by Sept. 30, they will be

when they enter through any of 115 international airports and 14 seaports.

There are no changes in unique rules covering visits by Canadians and Mexicans.

"There are security needs, I think everybody recognizes those security needs, and that the U.S.-VISIT program is a very, very low hassle, unobtrusive way of protecting the public and protecting the United States," said State Department spokesman Adam Ereli.

The Bush administration made the decision after determining the so-called "visa-waiver countries" won't meet an October deadline to have biometric passports that include fingerprint and iris identification features that make the documents virtually impossible to counterfeit.

But citizens from those countries still won't have to go through the consulate interviews, background checks, fingerprinting and photographing that foreigners from other countries must do to obtain a visa.

The US-VISIT program was passed by Congress in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. In January, the U.S. government began fingerprinting and photographing visitors from nations other than the visa-waiver countries at the border. About 5 million people have been processed so far.

Fingerprinting the visa-waiver citizens could have ramifications for Americans when they travel abroad. When US-VISIT began last winter, Brazil retaliated by requiring Americans visiting that country to be fingerprinted and photographed.