Swiss to Issue Biometric Passports

The Swiss authorities are to begin issuing biometric passports containing face recognition data from the end of next year.

The United States has given Switzerland and 26 other countries with which it has visa-waiver agreements until October 2005 to start issuing the new travel documents.

On Wednesday [15 September] the cabinet gave the green light to a five-year pilot project to test out the new travel document. The project is expected to cost 14m Swiss francs (11m dollars).

The justice ministry said that between 2005 and 2010, Swiss citizens who needed a biometric passport would be able to apply for one. All other passport applicants would receive the machine-readable version introduced in January 2003.

Demand

Justice Minister Christoph Blocher said that during the pilot project preparations would be made for the eventual replacement of the current passport with the biometric version. He said that other countries - notably European Union member states - were likely to follow the US in demanding that travellers carry biometric travel documents.

Blocher added that the new passport would "certainly be more expensive" than the existing one, as the costs of producing it were higher.

Holders of passports issued after October 2005 which do not include biometric data will be required to apply for a tourist visa before arriving in the US. But machine-readable Swiss passports issued before the deadline will still be valid for visa-free travel until they expire.

A number of European Union countries are also considering introducing new biometric passports from next year.

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