US tourism agency begs France to free up visas

20th January 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 19, 2006 (AFP) - A US tourism office in Paris on Thursday appealed to the French government to resolve a row that has blocked production of new biometric passports and created a visa logjam for French travellers heading to the United States.

PARIS, Jan 19, 2006 (AFP) - A US tourism office in Paris on Thursday appealed to the French government to resolve a row that has blocked production of new biometric passports and created a visa logjam for French travellers heading to the United States.

The Visit USA Committee, a body run by representatives from US companies and the US government, said in a statement that the problem was proving an obstacle for 300,000 of the 800,000 French citizens who go to the United States each year.

It has also cost the US tourist industry nearly EUR 500 million euros (US $600 million) so far, it said.

"Mr. Sarkozy — help us," the group appealed in the message directed at French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

Sarkozy's ministry, responsible for the issuance of French passports, has found itself unable to end a dispute sparked by its decision to outsource production of the passports to a private printing company.

Workers at France's state-owned National Printers have obtained an injunction preventing that on the basis that only they have a mandate to make French administrative documents.

Under a US law promulgated in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks, visitors to the United States from 27 mainly European countries enjoying visa-waiver status need to have biometric data encoded in a microchip in their passport if it was issued after October 2005.

Some countries, notably Australia, Britain and Italy, are meeting that requirement. France was to have been ready, too, but the labour dispute has stalled production.

As a result, the US consulate in Paris has been overwhelmed with French citizens needing a visa — a process that includes a face-to-face interview with one of the 24 consular officials to ensure that the applicant does not pose a "terrorist" risk.

The waiting time for an interview is currently five weeks, forcing many travellers — tourists, students and businesspeople — to cancel plans to visit the United States.

The Visit USA Committee said the big companies in the US tourism market have taken a 30 percent hit because of the problem, and that loss "will likely grow as travellers discover the situation."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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