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I have an Indian passport, which has given trouble scanning in different places. However, the data was entered manually by the officer, whenever it failed to scan. On examining closely, I noticed that its MRZ format is different. Typically, passports have 2 x 44 characters. But my passport has 2 x 42 characters. I looked everywhere to see if such a format exists. Please let me know if you're aware of such a format. FYI: The document is legit and was issued recently.

Also, please let me know if it may pose problems in international travel, especially to the US.


Just wanted to give some more context here.

The passport with bad MRZ has a valid visa. The visa itself has a MRZ which looks good. In that case, what would be your recommendation on the following actions?

  1. Should I get a new passport with non faulty MRZ? In that case, when I travel, I will travel with 2 passports; The old passport will have a faulty MRZ but valid visa. And the new passport will have a non faulty / valid MRZ.

  2. Should I not bother applying for a new passport as I already have a valid visa on the current passport (with non scanable MRZ)? In which case, I will just continue to use my current passport with valid visa as is.

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  • Is the MRZ missing the first two characters, the last two, or one on either end? The first character on the first line should be P, then there should be one character, and the next three should be IND. The last character on the second line should be a check digit. I don't know what the likelihood is of your getting the document replaced because it's faulty, but it's certainly something to consider.
    – phoog
    Mar 2 at 22:54
  • It's clearly missing the last 2 characters.
    – user144439
    Mar 2 at 23:26

2 Answers 2

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Your document is not a valid passport. You should contact the issuing authority and discuss this with them, with a view to obtaining a new copy.

The details of how a passport should look are defined by the International Civil Aviation Organization, an agency of the United Nations. The standards defined cover all details of the "biometrics" page - including the "Machine Readable Zone" (MRZ) at the bottom of this page.

The format for the MRZ is defined in ICAO Doc 9303.4, section 4.2.2, which clearly defines that both lines of the MRZ for a passport should be 44 characters long. (Note that there are different formats for the MRZ on a visa or other documents)

This section specifically states that for line 1 of the MRZ :

When all components of the primary and secondary identifiers and required separators (filler characters) do not exceed 39 characters in total, all name components shall be included in the MRZ and all unused character positions shall be completed with filler characters (<) repeated up to position 44 as required.

For the line 2 of the MRZ, the 44th character position is defined as a required field :

44 Composite check digit

The MRZ on a passport serves 2 purposes - the first is obviously that it provides the details of the passport in a format that can easily be read by a computer, but the information contained in the MRZ is also used to decrypt the information contained on the "chip" on the e-passport. Whilst it's possible to obtain that information from elsewhere on the biometric page, any automated systems that read the passport will use the MRZ to obtain this information.

Your passport not having valid data on the MRZ will be a massive red flag to immigration staff that the document may be counterfeit, and if they realize that the MRZ is invalid you can expect some serious scrutiny at immigration in pretty much any country.

If you have a phone that contains an NFC reader you may want to download one of the apps that allow reading the "chip" on the passport. These will normally need to take a photo of the MRZ first (as I said above, this data is used to encrypt the data on the chip) which likely won't work - so you'll need to find one that will allow you to enter that data manually. If the data on the chip can't be read, or if it is not your data, then you have an even more serious issue!

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    @AnishSheela I'm seeing multiple different sites online suggesting the E-passports started rolling out in India starting in 2021
    – Peter M
    Mar 2 at 19:18
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    "your document is not a valid passport": that is incorrect. The failure of an issuing authority to implement the ICAO standard on an individual document does not render the document invalid unless the issuing country's law says so. Obviously the officers who entered the data manually recognize this.
    – phoog
    Mar 2 at 19:43
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    @PeterM Not yet. I had got new passport last month. Still no e-passports. I think for official and diplomatic passports, they started it. Mar 2 at 20:03
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    Just FYI. I have traveled using this passport. The issue that I have seen is that, the officer is usually like "I gotta enter this info manually". Also another info: This was issued by the Consulate of India in US. Not sure if that makes any difference.
    – user144439
    Mar 2 at 20:25
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    @jcaron the US requires passorts to be machine readable (e-passports, in fact) to qualify for the VWP. Otherwise, they don't have to be. And anyone who shows up with a passport that is designed to be machine readable but which cannot be scanned because of some fault is not going to be denied entry for that reason. The assertion that the passport is invalid is unnecessary, alarmist, and inaccurate.
    – phoog
    Mar 2 at 22:21
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Please let me know if you're aware of such a format. FYI: The document is legit and was issued recently.

Doc's answer goes over the specification in some detail. There's only one format for the MRZ of a passport, two rows of 44 characters each.

Also, please let me know if it may pose problems in international travel, especially to the US.

Yes, it can pose problems, but as you've seen the problems are fairly minimal, primarily consisting of immigration officers and others having to enter data manually instead of scanning it from the MRZ of the passport. Nobody is going to send you home because the passport can't be scanned.

Specifically with regard to the US, apply for your visa as early as you possibly can, so you have time to get a new passport if the consulate demands it. I doubt they will. If they insert a visa into your faulty passport then you can be quite certain that the passport is acceptable.

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    If the immigration officials realize the reason the passport isn't scanning is because it's an invalid format then they are at least going to send the person to secondary security and have the passport examined under the presumption that it's fake. Yes, it's possible they won't realize that's why it's not scanning, but personally I wouldn't be taking that chance!
    – Doc
    Mar 2 at 23:08
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    @Doc I expect that the visa officer will already have noticed that and noted it in the record. This is the second question we've had in six months concerning a faulty MRZ (travel.stackexchange.com/q/183639/19400). Surely they're common enough that immigration officers see them fairly regularly. The passport will have all the other indicia of authenticity (UV marks, for example), so a more likely conclusion is that it's an error in a legitimate passport rather than that it was forged by someone who could print UV marks correctly but couldn't be bothered to read the ICAO spécification.
    – phoog
    Mar 2 at 23:45
  • The MRZ in that question is still technically correct - the 2nd field is "at the discretion of the issuing State or organization". The one in this question is not.
    – Doc
    Mar 3 at 0:18
  • @Doc no it isn't. Allowed characters in the MRZ are 0-9, A-Z, and <. The issuing country can choose one of those 37 characters at its discretion. It can't use a > character (nor any other character that isn't one of the 37). Which is why that passport also can't be scanned.
    – phoog
    Mar 3 at 0:51
  • @Doc in fact, the specification further prohibits digits in the second position. The character there must be one of the 26 letters A-Z or the < placeholder.
    – phoog
    Mar 3 at 1:05

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