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Feb 18, 2005

New features on new passports

Story PictureIt used to be enough to go to the photo shop to get your picture taken for your new passport. But these days heightened security measures around the world mean immigration officers need a little bit more proof the man or woman using your name is really you. Patrick Jones reports.

Patrick Jones, Reporting
The passports look the same, but an additional feature has been added which will make all the difference in the world. Director of Immigration Gareth Murrillo says the documentary requirements and fees remain the same but the new system will cleanup discrepancies in obtaining a Belize passport.

Gareth Murrillo, Director of Immigration
?It works by apply biometric technology to a computer data base. We have a finger print scanning and facial recognition software built into the system. So when you make an application for a passport, the system will run your face and your finger print against the records already in the database. That ensures that we do not issue you multiple applications.?

Patrick Jones
?What happens to people who currently have passports? Will those simply not work anymore??

Gareth Murrillo
?Yes, those will continue to work. It?s a matter of where you intend to travel. If its to a country that demands you have a machine readable passport, then we would suggest that you come in, renew those passports.?

The system was built for Belize by 3M Limited of Ottawa, Canada with financial assistance of over a million dollars provided the United States government. Murrillo says the book itself will look the same, except for a new data page. Minister of Home Affairs Ralph Fonseca applauds the new system.

Ralph Fonseca, Minister of Home Affairs
?Well it certainly means that Belize is right up front when it comes to keeping up with international standards. I was just told by Mr. Pires who is the head of the international migration people that there is only one other country for instance in Central America that has the system. So there are many other countries that have got to catch up. Belize is leading in the way of meeting international standard.?

Patrick Jones
?By putting this in place, does this sort of help Belize to make its passports more counterfeit proof??

Ralph Fonseca
?Yes, of course. And what we are trying to do is help Belizeans. It?s not just a matter of getting technology. We all know that we have problems more and more when we travel. If our passports don?t meet the international standards, they ask more questions, they look at the documents more times. But with this technology now it should be a lot easier. And as Mr. Murrillo explained, with this system you will have your picture taken. The picture will in effect be burnt into the paper; there are certain codes on the bottom. Mr. Pires was telling me for example that even his country isn?t as far advanced as we are in the way of accepting the international coding. So Belizeans in general will be facilitated in travelling. They will feel more comfortable and they will know that when they get in front of an immigration officer anywhere in the world, they will recognise that they come form a country that understands the need to keep up with the international standards.?

Fonseca says that with additional security points added to the process of getting a Belize passport, the chances of the wrong people getting their hands on one of the documents has been virtually eliminated.

Gareth Murrillo
?This is an idea that we have had since 2001. It has been so long in the making that it is a relief to have it finally going now. We do not intend to have this one stop. We intend to continue and develop a further system for border management as well.?

Patrick Jones, for News 5.

The new machine readable passports will be valid for five years instead of the usual ten years. Murrillo says that passport offices countrywide will start accepting applications for the new passports beginning on Monday with delivery time estimated at a week. The Government of Belize recently acquired a stock of a hundred thousand passport books.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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