Bermuda-US travel unaffected by visa kerfuffle

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Certain holders of Bermuda passports have been told by authorities in a variety of countries that a visa is required for them to enter the United States, according to the Department of Immigration.

Officials are now in talks with the Passport Office in Britain, the Deputy Governor, the US Consul General, and United States Custom and Border Protection, with the aim of rectifying the problem, which has not been caused by any change in US policy.

A spokeswoman emphasised that the issue had affected travellers at ports of entry other than the US pre-clearance at the LF Wade International Airport.

The passports affected have been those issued after May 2016, and printed in Britain by the UK office.

Mary Ellen Noonan Koenig, the US Consul-General pointed out that there had been no alteration to the longstanding US immigration policy relating to Bermuda, and said that Bermudians do not require a visa to enter the US.

Her office had recently learnt that some Bermudians were experiencing additional questions or delays at certain international borders, and after examining the issue, discovered that newly issued UK Overseas Territory passports no longer designated Bermuda as separate from other UK Overseas Territories — most of which do require visas to enter the US.

“Without its own unique designation, Bermudians with newly issued British Overseas Territories passports might be asked about visas when entering the United States from other countries,” she said. “We referred the issue to Government House and the Ministry of Home Affairs.

“US Customs and Border Protection officials at LF Wade International Airport are fully aware of the new designation for Bermudians in the new Overseas Territories passports and are able to routinely process visa-free entry to the United States from Bermuda per standard practice.”

She advised that obtaining a US visa may nonetheless prove useful in reducing questioning at international borders caused by the elimination of the island’s unique designation code.

“The decision to apply for a visa is up to each individual traveller,” she added, directing prospective applicants to the consulate’s website, at https://bm.usconsulate.gov/visas/.

The Department of Immigration spokeswoman said that the new passports were readable, containing a biometric chip, but were now coded GBD, the nationality code for British Dependent Territories. BMU, the country code for Bermuda, is no longer included on the passport data page.

“This is the real issue,” she said, adding that, until a resolution is achieved, travellers with a BOTC Bermuda passport issued after May 2016 may be asked to obtain a US visa.

“In such cases, they are advised to co-operate with the authorities of various countries to avoid extreme delays in their travel plans. The Bermuda Government will continue to work expeditiously to resolve the issue and will update the general public accordingly.”

UPDATE: this story has been amended to make clear that Bermuda passport-holders leaving the island directly to visit the United States are not obliged to apply for a visa

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Published Mar 2, 2017 at 12:01 am (Updated Mar 2, 2017 at 3:22 pm)

Bermuda-US travel unaffected by visa kerfuffle

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