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Page last updated at 22:46 GMT, Tuesday, 3 June 2008 23:46 UK

US to tighten visa restrictions

US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, file pic
Mr Chertoff's new measure will affect visitors from 27 countries

The US is to tighten visa restrictions to allow it to screen all short-term visitors from Japan and Western Europe.

US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said visitors to the US who do not need visas will be required to register with the government online.

The security regulation, set to begin next year, will require visitors to register three days before they visit.

The online registration will remain valid for a two-year period, Mr Chertoff said.

He said the changes - which will affect citizens of the 27 countries currently listed under the US visa waiver programme - will allow the US to screen visitors before they travel.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said it had been reassured that the new measures contained provisions for last-minute travel.

Deterring terror

The waiver programme was initiated in 1986 "with the objective of eliminating unnecessary barriers to travel, stimulating the tourism industry," according to the State Department website.

The new programme will be rolled out from August, and will be mandatory for all visa-free travel from 12 January, 2009.

A Homeland Security spokesman said the new registrations would require the same information as the I-94 card, which is currently filled out by visitors to the US and turned in to customs on arrival in the country.

That information includes passport number, country of residence, and any involvement in terror activities.

The new US Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) aims to make it more difficult for potential terrorists to enter the US.

The visa waiver programme has been under fire by some US lawmakers, who are concerned that militants who are citizens of the participating countries can too easily obtain entry.

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