Authorities in France and Italy fail to meet deadline for visa-free travel to the U.S.

Authorities in France and Italy have failed to fully meet a U.S.-imposed deadline Wednesday to start issuing passports with digital photos, a measure required to ensure that holders do not lose their right to visa-free entry to the United States.Only a handful of cities throughout Italy and none in France are equipped to comply with the rules, which require countries that are part of the visa-waiver program to issue new passports with digital photographs, Italian and French authorities said.

Holders of passports issued after Wednesday without the digital photo will have to apply for a visa, authorities said.

The new French passports will be ready for delivery in Paris by the end of the year, while the rest of the country will follow in the first three months of 2006, the French Foreign Ministry said. Rome, Milan, Naples, Cagliari and Palermo are the only cities in Italy equipped to comply with the rules, introduced under laws tightening U.S. borders after the 2001 terror attacks, the Italian Foreign Ministry and U.S. Embassy in Rome said.

The digital-photo requirement applies only to newly issued passports; holders of a valid, machine-readable passport will continue to qualify for the waiver program, which allows citizens from 27 nations to enter the United States without a visa, the AP reports. A.M.

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