Better with borders: How do ICAO working groups advance the important roles of border management?


The Technical Advisory Group (TAG) on the ICAO Traveller Identification Program (TRIP) is supported by two working groups with complimentary roles: the Implementation and Capacity Building Working Group (ICBWG) and the New Technologies Working Group (NTWG). The ICBWG promotes the implementation of travel document standards and recommended practices (SARPs) by directly engaging with States, sharing expertise, and developing guidance material. The group’s meetings and products are of value to passport issuers and border officials across ICAO Member States, particularly as new travel document technologies are introduced.

The NTWG develops and maintains interoperable Machine Readable Travel Document (MRTD) standards related to issuance and document verification, including exploring new technologies. Participation in this group enables ICAO Member States to actively contribute to emerging policy, operational and technical issues, as well as exchange information across government and industry.

Key to the success of both groups is the contribution of government, aviation industry and International Standardization Organization (ISO) experts. Understanding passport trends, challenges, and the changing travel landscape is integral in developing guidance material and establishing specifications. Border management entities keenly understand emerging threats to passport security, the operational realities of passport verification, along with pressures caused by growing traveller volumes, and in recent years, a global pandemic. Ensuring that this border perspective is appropriately reflected in both groups is a shared priority. This joint article serves as an invitation to our border management colleagues to reach out to both groups.

2015 ICBWG, Samoa

ICBWG at a Glance

The ICAO ICBWG was established in 2008 to assist with the universal implementation of MRTDs and to build global capability in related identity management disciplines. This mandate has since grown to include the provision of advice and guidance across a range of travel document and border control/facilitation areas.

Exchange Best Practices, Experiences

The ICBWG holds its meetings in various corners of the world to maximize engagement across Member States and support ICAO Regional Seminars. The group is committed to connecting with various regions around the world to produce relevant guidance material. ICBWG materials include topics related to the handling/issuance of travel documents, establishing evidence of identity, and circulating specimen travel documents. These guides, among others, can be downloaded from the ICAO website. Before long, the ICBWG will turn its attention to developing guidance related to the Digital Travel Credential (DTC). Border expert contributions to the development and ongoing maintenance of guidance materials is required.

Travel Document Interoperability

Doc 9303 outlines mandatory and optional travel document specifications. As many operational processes throughout the travel continuum are designed with these technical specifications in mind, alignment with standards is key to ensuring global interoperability, document security and traveller facilitation. Non-compliance issues can cause challenges for airlines, border entities and the traveller. The ICBWG monitors non-compliance and confidentially notifies states of identified issues. This work requires support – any Member State or border entities detecting a travel document non-compliance issue are invited to communicate directly with the ICBWG via

Applicability of ICAO Annex 9 SARPs

In addition to helping States comply with the travel document-related SARPs outlined in Annex 9, the ICBWG works to ensure these SARPs are clear and continue to reflect the operating environment. Identifying changing border needs and ensuring they are appropriately reflected in Annex 9 requires ongoing border expert input. The ICBWG is currently carrying out an assessment of all travel document Annex 9 definitions and SARPs to identify areas that may benefit from updates; border entity participation is highly encouraged.

At the same time, the ICBWG is working with the NTWG to assess the impacts, benefits and challenges of mandating the issuance of electronic MRTDs (eMRTDs) in Annex 9. If eMRTDs were elevated to an Annex 9 standard, all ICAO Member States would be required under the Chicago Convention to issue eMRTDs (instead of MRTDs) by an agreed future date. Efforts are underway to engage States that have recently launched or have not yet launched eMRTDs, including passport issuing and border authorities, to contribute to this study in order to assess the pros and cons of a mandatory standard, and provide advice and options to the TAG-TRIP in 2023.

2016 NTWG, New Zealand

NTWG at a Glance

The NTWG, established in 1993, develops detailed technical specifications in relation to the manufacture, security, issuance and globally interoperable use of MRTDs for holder identification, document validation and secure border control. It also conducts research into technological solutions for the above-mentioned areas. One key result of the work of the NWTG is the development of the eMRTD, now issued by over 145 States.

Partnership with ISO

The International Standardization Organization (ISO), a key contributor of the group’s standardization work, provides essential technical knowledge and expertise. NTWG’s relationship with ISO underlines the importance of ensuring a range of travel document, border and technical experts contribute to the development of technical specifications. Accordingly, the process by which the NTWG revises and develops new specifications, including ISO’s role therein, is governed by a formalized structure guiding the creation of new work items, their endorsement by the TAG/TRIP, through to formal publication.

MRTD Functionality

The NTWG updates existing technical specifications to maximize the functionality and global interoperability of MRTDs, including physical and electronic features. Technical Reports (TRs) pave the way for new and updated specifications and increased security and operational efficiency (such as the TRs on Machine Authentication, Portrait Quality and Visible Digital Seals for Non-Electronic Documents, now reflected in the Doc 9303 8th edition). The NTWG is exploring other potential updates to MRTD specifications – a process which requires border management expert input to ensure ongoing functionality with inspection systems. Once TRs are finalized, new/updated technical specifications are incorporated into Doc 9303, a process which the NTWG also oversees in close collaboration with ISO partners.

Develop New Technology

An important element of the NTWG’s work involves exploring technological solutions that expand, facilitate, and improve secure border management globally. This includes scoping out future travel document solutions, such as the DTC, and developing solutions to address emerging needs, such as the Visible Digital Seal for Non-Constrained Environments (VDS-NC) TR and accompanying guidance related travel health proofs such as proof vaccination, proof of testing and proof of recovery during the latest COVID-19 pandemic. The VDS-NC was specifically developed with border system interoperability in mind, and similar considerations are key in the development of both DTC policy and technical specifications. The NTWG also engages with the industry through a triennial Request for Information inviting vendors from around the world to showcase new and emerging travel document technologies to ICAO Member States.

Reaching out to the ICBWG and NTWG

Building border expert membership is top of mind for the ICBWG and NTWG. As primary users of travel documents, border management partners share similar goals, and together, we can develop the right tools and solutions.

The ICBWG views the border perspective as an essential component of capacity building, most specifically, the sharing of operational guidance. Such engagement can bolster border awareness of global travel document issuance trends and result in benefits to domestic travel verification systems/processes. As key end-users of travel documents, the border perspective is invaluable to the NTWG’s development of new technologies. Similarly, this engagement can also facilitate coordination with domestic modernization plans.

The initiatives described in this article represent only a few ways border experts can contribute to the ICBWG and NTWG. Both groups have established dedicated border management sub-groups and efforts are underway to build a detailed agenda of work in this area.

For the ICBWG, this work plan will include eMRTD validation (fully leveraging the security features of the eMRTD and identifying non-compliance issues causing validation failures) and weaving border-related perspectives into existing and new products (such as updating the Border Control Management Guide and future DTC guidance material).

For the NTWG, this work will encompass advancing the Digital Travel Credential technical specifications and assessing the findings of any DTC pilots deployed by Member States, along with continuing to assess potential future changes to MRTD technical specifications.

The ICBWG and NTWG welcome any inquiries to discuss the functions of the groups or the possibility of new membership. We look forward to hearing from you.

About the authors

Ana Dacal is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, contributing to the Passport Program Policy Division. Ms. Dacal joined the Implementation and Capacity Building Working Group in 2019, and is also a member of the New Technologies Working Group and the Doc 9303 Editorial Group. Prior to engaging in the realm of travel documents, Ana worked in the fields of visa policy and international affairs.

Justin Ikura is Director of the Office of Biometrics and Identity Management at the Canada Border Services Agency, and is the Vice Chair of the ICAO New Technologies Working Group. Mr. Ikura holds an undergraduate degree in International Business and Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration, both from the University of Ottawa.