Switzerland to issue biometric passports

The US government wants inbound travellers to supply biometric data such as fingerprints Keystone

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

This content was published on June 29, 2005 minutes

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 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 SFr14 million ($11 million).

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.


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.

Earlier this month the “NZZ am Sonntag” newspaper reported that the Federal Police Office had submitted a draft proposal to the cabinet calling for the introduction of the new-style passport.

Police officials say the pilot project should be able to cope with demand for the new document. It estimates that over the five-year period there will be between 50,000 and 100,000 applications for a biometric passport.

Extended deadline

Five offices will handle the applications in Switzerland. A number of Swiss embassies abroad will also have the power to issue the new documents.

The push to introduce biometric passports comes as the US seeks to tighten border security following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The new identity documents are designed to be more difficult to forge.

Washington originally set a deadline of October 2004 for the introduction of the new documents, but this was extended by a year after it became clear that most of the 27 countries affected would not be able to comply in time.

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.

swissinfo with agencies


The pilot scheme for testing biometric passports will run from 2005 until 2010.
It's expected to cost SFr14 million ($11 million).
The new passports will be issued to those who require them for travel to the US.
Switzerland introduced a machine-readable passport in 2003.

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In brief

Biometrics is the science of measuring an individual's physical properties.

Biometric systems recognize features such as a fingerprint, iris patterns, ear shape, and vein structure.

A person's biometric data can be compared with the information contained in the passport for verification purposes.

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