NEW YORK -- Some visa-waiver countries in the European Union reportedly could soon be issuing passports and visas with implanted computer chips containing eye scan or digital fingerprint data, under a plan that the EU adopted Friday.

The EU action doesn't commit members to an implementation deadline, but Congress mandated that visa-waiver countries -- including Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom -- adopt biometric technology for passports by Oct. 26, 2004.

The EU plan commits about $164 million to studying which biometric option is optimal because it said "a coherent approach is needed on biometric identifiers."

The International Civil Aviation Organization in May selected computerized facial recognition as the best-suited biometric method for identifying air travelers worldwide.

Meanwhile, a report from the Travel Industry Association found that overseas arrivals to the U.S. dropped last year, continuing a trend that was first identified 10 years ago.

Arrivals from the top visitor markets to the U.S. were down 5% in 2002 compared with the prior year.

However, TIA's "Market Share Indicator" report noted that arrivals in 2001 were also down 12%.

The sluggish world economy and international turmoil played a role in suppressing interest in travel last year, the TIA said.

Visitor arrivals to the U.S. have declined 37% since 1992, the TIA said.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI