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New Passport Requirements Cause Problems for Iraqi Travelers

The U.S. started 2007 with several passport-related changes, including one that requires all passengers entering the country by air show passports upon arrival. On January 8, the government tightened entry requirements for holders of Iraqi passports, effective immediately. To enter the United States, Iraqi citizens must now provide a “G” or “H” series passport, an electronic version that authenticates identities through digital imaging. Officials cite failure to meet international standards and forgery as reasons for the change.

The U.S. is not the first to require electronic passports. Several European countries including the U.K., Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg also now require the new series to prevent fraud. Recently, the Iraqi Embassy in Stockholm was accused of issuing 26,000 passports based on falsified documents. Nonetheless, the U.S. government’s decision has been met with frustration by many Iraqis.

The Boston Globe recently reported that a UN diplomat had to return to Iraq after arriving in the U.S. Officials also initially denied a Harvard student reentry from Canada without first obtaining a new passport in Baghdad. According to the article, the electronic passport rule has already barred “hundreds and maybe thousands” of Iraqis with valid visas from the U.S., separating families and making it even more difficult for people to leave Iraq.

Iraq’s ambassador to the United States said none of the Iraqi embassies currently have the technology or trained personnel to make the required passports. With the new requirement, some Iraqis would be forced to return to a potentially life-threatening situation in Baghdad. Iraqi diplomats decry the United States’ lack of advance notice of the change. They estimate that months will be required to equip and train Iraqi embassies to issue the new passports. In the meanwhile, the ambassador described the requirement to return to Bagdad for an updated passport as an “extreme hardship” for Iraqis living abroad.

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