23 December 2003
New U.S. Entry-Exit System Aims to Enhance Security, Reduce Fraud
System "applies equally across the board" to visa holders, says Hutchinson
By Anthony Kujawa
Washington -- New entry-exit procedures for visitors traveling on visas to the United States will be fast, effective, enhance security and reduce opportunities for fraud, says Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security Asa Hutchinson.
Developed in response to a congressional mandate, US-VISIT (United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology) -- an automated entry/exit system -- will require most visitors traveling on visas to the United States to have two fingers scanned by an inkless device and a digital photograph taken by immigration officials upon entry at U.S. air and seaports starting January 5, 2004.
Briefing on the new technologies at the State Department's Foreign Press Center in Washington December 22, Hutchinson said US-VISIT will enhance security, and increase the integrity of the U.S. immigration system. The automated entry/exit system will be in place at 115 airports and 14 major seaports in early 2004 and will be phased in at U.S. land borders throughout 2005 and 2006.
The goal of US-VISIT, Hutchinson told the reporters, is to enhance the security of the United States while expediting legitimate travel and trade. The program provides the capability to verify the identity of incoming visitors, record the entry and exit of non-U.S. citizens into and out of the United States, and confirm compliance with visa and immigration policies, he said.
"For the first time in history we will be able to biometrically confirm the identity of a visa traveler to the United States," said Hutchinson, explaining the significance of the new security capability.
Under US-VISIT, many of the procedures upon entry and exit to the United States will remain unchanged. Upon entry, he said, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers will continue to review travel documents, such as a visa and passport, and ask questions about the visitor's stay in the U.S.
But now when an immigration official electronically scans the visa in the visitor's passport, the photo and biographic data collected during the visa application interview will become available on the official's computer. The visitor will then be asked to put one and then the other index finger on a glass plate that will electronically capture two fingerprints. The fingerprints will be run through a database to ensure the visitor is eligible to enter the United States. Visitors also will be photographed. The photo can be taken while fingerprinting is in process.
"This is something that will be done in a very inoffensive manner and it will be done very quickly," said Hutchinson.
With US-VISIT, upon exit from the United States travelers will see automated, self-service kiosks at the international departure areas, where visitors with visas will be asked to scan their travel documents electronically and repeat the fingerprinting process on the inkless device. DHS officials said this process will verify the visitor's identity and departure and will confirm compliance with U.S. immigration policy. The exit confirmation will be added to the visitor's travel records to demonstrate compliance and record the individual's status for future visits to the United States.
The under secretary said the data obtained will be securely stored as part of the visitor's travel record and made available only to authorized officials and selected law enforcement agencies responsible for ensuring the safety and security of U.S. citizens and foreign visitors.
In response to a question on "profiling" of certain national or ethnic groups at points of entry, Hutchinson said that US-VISIT "applies equally across the board" to visa holders who come to the United States, regardless of nationality.
He explained that US-VISIT is designed to avoid reliance upon classification of "broad categories" of people. With the ability to confirm identity biometrically, he said, US-VISIT will facilitate the entry and exit of travelers to the United States and reduce the number of referrals to secondary inspection. If a traveler's name is similar to a name on a terrorist "watch list," for example, Hutchinson said that with US-VISIT's capability to confirm identity, it would not be necessary to refer the traveler for secondary examination.
He added that US-VISIT will "facilitate travel" for frequent travelers whose "biometric" is already in the system and can be confirmed quickly, and who have abided by the terms of their visa when entering and exiting the United States in the past.
When US-VISIT technology was implemented as part of a voluntary pilot project in Atlanta, Hutchinson said many participants mentioned how they were "impressed with the technology" and felt safer.
Asked how US-VISIT affects travelers from the 27 nations who participate in the visa waiver program, Hutchinson explained that visitors from a visa-waiver country who enter the United States on a visa (e.g. a student visa) with the exception of certain diplomatic visas, will be required to have their digital fingerprint and photo taken upon entry.
Hutchinson said international response toward US-VISIT has been favorable, adding that the international standard for passports is moving toward incorporating a "biometric" standard.
"We are not trying to move in isolation. We are trying to move with our international partners," said Hutchinson.
"We want to treat everyone fairly in this regard, be a welcoming nation, and I think that that will be reciprocated," he said.
"All of these entry and exit procedures address our critical need for tighter security and our commitment to expedite travel for the millions of legitimate visitors we welcome each year to conduct business, learn, see family or tour the country," said Hutchinson in an earlier presentation on US-VISIT.
"The U.S. wants to continue to be a welcoming nation," he said.
According to a DHS brochure that describes US-VISIT procedures, "The United States of America is still a nation where diversity is celebrated and people from all over the world are welcome. Today we -- like most other countries -- are working to keep our borders secure while we maintain the freedom to exchange ideas, keep businesses thriving, and enrich lives all over the world."
For more information about the US-VISIT program, visit www.dhs.gov/us-visit.
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)