Japan has decided to introduce biometric passports by fiscal 2005 to meet tightened U.S. immigration controls following the September 2001 terror attacks, government officials said on Saturday.

Starting in October 2004, the United States will not grant visa waivers to people without biometric passports. Japan has decided to step up its preparations because the U.S. will exempt people from countries preparing such passports as of October this year, they said.

Biometric passports contain microchips with information on the features of the holder’s face and other physical characteristics, such as fingerprints and iris data. They are designed to make counterfeiting more difficult.

Japan is one of 27 countries whose citizens do not require visas to enter the U.S. for short stays. But Washington has decided to cancel that right for countries that do not use biometric passports.

The U.S. wants the passports to include fingerprint data, but a Foreign Ministry official said that would be difficult due to privacy concerns among Japanese.

The International Civil Aviation Authority, which is working to formulate biometric passport standards at the request of Washington, has indicated the travel documents should mainly contain facial information, but fingerprint and iris data may also be used as an additional security measure.

The ICAO is expected to formally announce the standards in May.

The U.S. has tightened passport and visa rules as part of stricter overall immigration regulations to help prevent terrorists from entering the country.

In August, the U.S. obliged Japanese nationals to undergo interviews to apply for study and work visas.

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