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PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, March 3) – The first biometric passports required for entry into or transiting the U.S.A. will be available in France in five weeks, which means early April instead of early May, according to a French Interior Ministry announcement Friday.

[PIR editor’s note: Biometric passports are a kind of global identity system for air travelers overseen by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and backed by the United States and the European Union. It was reported last month that French nationals need an American visa to transit through the U.S. en route to Tahiti because France is not expected to be ready before May to start producing the electronic European passports required by the U.S. since October 26 of last year (read the story).]

Tahiti Tourisme Communications Manager Heikura Vaxelaire welcomed the news in a communiqué.

"We're pleased that France ended up making a decision. But we are waiting to see in five weeks how that is going to really be set up."

The Tahiti Tourisme communiqué noted there were 28.6 percent fewer French tourists visiting Tahiti and Her Islands in January.

France, Tahiti's number 2 individual country market, produced 2,380 visitors in January. That was 952 less than a year ago.

French nationals who want to visit Tahiti without spending any time in the U.S.A. must transit either in New York or Los Angeles upon arriving from Paris.

France and Italy are the only two European countries that have yet to produce the biometric passports required by the U.S. Immigration Service. That means French and Italian nationals who are carrying passports issued after Oct. 26, 2005, must obtain a U.S. visa from an American Embassy Consulate Office.

French and Italian nationals who have a European passport issued before Oct. 26, 2005, that has not yet expired are not affected and can transit through or enter the U.S.A. without a visa.

Friday's decision to start printing the biometric passports in France stems from a decision by the French Council of State. The council, France's highest judicial authority, upheld an Administrative Tribunal's decision preventing a private printing company to produce the passports. The Interior Ministry decided to give the printing work to the French government printer, as had been the custom in the past.

March 6, 2006


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