US bans old-style British passports: Security experts call for review

A British biometric passport

A British biometric passport

American border security rules which risk ruining British family holidays to the US should be introduced by the UK amid heightened security fears, experts have said.

Ministers have been urged to consider following the American example and impose sweeping requirements for visitors to hold biometric passports.

British travellers heading for the US are now required to possess a modern electronic passport under the long-standing “visa waiver” scheme.

The move has led to some families being turned away at airports because their travel documents are the old-style paper version, which do not contain a biometric microchip.

However, counter-terrorism experts said Britain should consider similar steps to reduce the risk of terrorists using false passports to enter Britain.

Professor Anthony Glees, director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham, said: “I absolutely think ministers should be considering this. People wanting to come to the UK should be required to have state-of-the-art passports. It is in everybody’s interests that our borders are secure. We should be pushing for this.”

British passport holders benefit from a long-standing deal which means they do not need a visa to enter the US.

But among Britain’s 50 million passport holders, an estimated five million currently possess older travel documents which do not contain an embedded microchip.

It means they will have to renew their passports early at a cost of at least £72.50 if they wish to travel to America.

Apart from Britain, 37 other countries are permitted to take part in the existing visa waiver scheme, allowing visitors to remain in the US for up to 90 days.

The US review was launched in the wake of the attacks in Paris by Islamic State terrorists, one of whom was a citizen of Belgium – one of the US visa waiver states.

British passports have a microchip embedded in the cover which contains an electronic version of the holder’s photograph, as well as the information on the personal details page of the passport including date and place of birth, nationality and gender.

The microchips were first introduced in Britain in 2006, and with 50 million UK passports in total in circulation it means roughly five million non-biometric documents have about a year left to run before they expire.

Around 3.8 million British nationals visit the United States every year.

A Home Office spokesman said: “Border Force conducts rigorous checks on all those entering the UK and uses some of the most advanced technology in the world to keep our borders secure.

“Detailed biometric information is taken from anyone applying for a visa and this information is verified by our officers when the applicant arrives in the UK.

“On top of this, 100 per cent of passengers arriving at passport control are checked against the Warnings Index.

“We also collect Advanced Passenger Information to assess passengers and crew in advance of their arrival.”

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