28 October 2003
New Entry-Exit System for Visitors to U.S. Will Be Fast and Effective
US-VISIT aims to enhance security, expedite legitimate travel
By Anthony Kujawa
Washington -- The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) demonstrated new procedures that will require most visitors traveling on visas to the United States to have two fingerprints 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.
The procedures, developed in response to a congressional mandate, are part of the US-VISIT (United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology) -- an automated entry/exit system -- and will be in place at 115 airports and 14 major seaports in early 2004. The enhancements to the immigration process will be phased in at U.S. land borders throughout 2005 and 2006.
Speaking at an October 28 press briefing demonstrating the new technologies, DHS Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security Asa Hutchinson called US-VISIT "the most dramatic step forward in increasing security in the modern history of immigration."
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 we will have a comprehensive system [with which] we will be able to confirm the identity of a visitor to the U.S. in a biometric fashion; this gives us a tremendous new security capability," said Hutchinson.
Discussing concerns that the program will add time and confusion to the entry-exit process for visitors at air and seaports, DHS's Director of US-VISIT Program James Williams said, "Today you will see just the opposite. You will see a program that is effective, simple, fast and respectful."
Williams said US-VISIT meets its four goals, which are to enhance the security of U.S. citizens and visitors, expedite legitimate travel and trade, ensure the integrity of the immigration system, and safeguard and respect visitor personal privacy.
"It will not add any significant processing time to the current process," said Williams. Enhanced security procedures, he said, may add "only seconds" to the overall processing time.
Hutchinson added that the data obtained is securely stored as part of the visitor's travel record and that the information is 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.
Under US-VISIT, many of the procedures upon entry and exit to the United States will remain unchanged, said Hutchinson. 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 asked to look into a camera and their picture will be taken. The photo can be taken while fingerprinting is in process.
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.
"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.
"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.