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The UK has been issuing “biometric” passports (also known as “ePassports”) since 2006. The passports include a microchip which stores a digitised image of the holder’s passport photograph as well as the biographical details printed on the passport. Non-biometric passports continue to be valid until they expire.

In recent years many countries have been moving towards the use of biometric technology in passports (and other immigration documents). International Civil Aviation Organization recommendations for biometric standards include a digitised photograph embedded on a chip in the passport. Countries wishing to stay in the US visa waiver programme had to start issuing biometric passports in line with these international recommendations.

The EU has set minimum standards for passports which include the use of facial and fingerprint biometrics. The UK is not covered by the regulations. The previous government had intended to introduce “second generation” ePassports in 2012, which would have included fingerprint data, in order to keep pace with the EU regulations. However, the Coalition Government halted these plans and does not intend to extend the use of biometrics in UK passports beyond facial biometrics.

The passport section on the DirectGov website gives a lot of information about the passport application process. The Identity and Passport Service’s passport policy publications contain more detailed information; it also operates a passport adviceline for members of the public.

Library standard note SN/HA/05684 discusses passport application fees.

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