Last updated: 03:07 PM ET, Fri May 06 2016

2.7 Million Britons Caught Off Guard by New US Passport Regulations

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | May 06, 2016

2.7 Million Britons Caught Off Guard by New US Passport Regulations

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Following the San Bernardino shootings last year, the United States acted quickly to increase the strictness of its visa regulations. Now 2.7 million Britons are finding out about the unintended consequences of that increased scrutiny.

At issue is a section of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 requiring that anyone who arrives in the United States under the current visa waiver agreement have a passport with a biometric chip in it. These so-called e-passports are becoming more and more common, but as many British travelers are finding out, they are not universal.

Britons started receiving biometric passports in October of 2006, so a majority of the 3.8 million who come to the United States annually still follow the same procedure that they did before the Visa Waiver Program Improvement was enacted. But millions more are finding their passports are no longer valid for travel to the U.S.

READ MORE: What Could Changes to Visa Waiver Program Mean for US Travel?

2.7 million Britons caught out by change in regulations

Unfortunately, like travel documents in the United States, English passports are good for 10 years. This means that a number of Britons are still traveling using passports that were issued between May and October of 2006, before the biometric chips were added. 

As many as 2.7 million people are still traveling on the old passports and do not comply with the new biometric regulations. Because of this, they cannot legally travel to the U.S. under the current visa waiver program. 

Denied boarding

There have been instances of British travelers being denied boarding for their flights to the U.S because their passports do not meet the new criteria, even though they are still legally valid in the UK. It should be obvious from the document’s expiration date when it was issued, but many travelers are unaware of the new rules and they have apparently not been notified when they do the required online paperwork for their visa waiver.   

UK news outlet the Telegraph pointed to complaints on social media, including one from a tourist named Vic Ryan, who claimed that he was not alerted when he filled in his online paperwork to travel to the U.S. He said that he “filled in all the necessary online forms including API and ESTAs 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.” 
Others have been denied boarding even through they were just transiting in the States (while traveling from the UK to the Caribbean for example) with no intention of staying. Enough people have had these issues that it has caught the attention of the media.  

READ MORE: Brazil's Visa Waiver Program: What You Need to Know

A new passport is the only easy fix

Because of the inflexibility of the new regulations in the U.S., it seems like there is only one way for British travelers with non-qualifying passports to overcome this problem. They will simply have to apply for a new passport a few months early. 

Eventually (by October), this issue will take care of itself. That is little comfort to those who have already had to unexpectedly change their plans because they were unaware that they had a passport that did not qualify for travel to America. 


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