Portugal Clears Biometric Passport Plan

LISBON -- Portugal's cabinet on Thursday approved a plan to introduce passports with biometric data, required by the United States for visa-free travel, by next July.

The new passports, which will contain digital photographs, will be more difficult to falsify and will boost airline security, a government spokesman told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting.

Washington has since June 26 required required visitors from 27 countries to use machine-readable passports to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

The passports are required from citizens of the original 15 European Union nations such as Portugal -- but excluding Greece and Slovenia as well as other more recent EU members -- plus nations such as Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Japan.

In 2004, around 15 million VWP travelers visited the United States, figures from the US Department of Inland Security show.

The United States introduced the requirement in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks.

(c) 2005 Agence France-Presse