05 January 2004
New U.S. Entry Procedures Required for Foreign Visitors
US-VISIT program launched January 5
Starting January 5, foreign visitors entering the United States
with a visa are subject to new requirements under a program designed
to both enhance U.S. border security and ease travel. Travelers
entering at 115 airports and 14 seaports are now required to present
fingerprints and pose for a digital photograph employing biometric
methods -- physical characteristics unique to each individual --
to establish identity.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is implementing
the new procedures known as US-VISIT. "US-VISIT is actually
a continuum of security measures that begin overseas, at the U.S.
consular offices issuing visas, where biometrics will be collected
to determine if the applicant is on a database of known or suspected
criminals or terrorists," said DHS Under Secretary of Border
and Transportation Security Asa Hutchinson in a January 5 press
release. "When the visitor gets to our border, we use the
same biometrics -- these digital ‘fingerscans' -- to verify
that the person at our port is the same person who received the
visa or to see if we have learned new information about any involvement
in terrorism or crime."
Since November 17, US-VISIT has been in place on a trial basis
at the Atlanta, Georgia, airport where officials report that the
new requirements add only 15 seconds to the entry process. The
program is also to be phased in at land ports -- highways entering
the United States from Mexico and Canada -- by the end of 2005.
Only visitors entering the United States with a visa are subject
to the new requirements. The visa waiver program -- an agreement
maintained with 27 nations -- allows travelers to enter the United
States without obtaining a visa, so they will not be subject to
biometric checks in the immediate future. Citizens of these same
nations entering to work or study are still required to have a
visa, however, and also will be subject to the new requirements.
Countries participating in the visa waiver program are listed
General details about the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) are available
New requirements for VWP travelers to carry machine-readable passports
are being phased in currently.
Following is the text of the DHS press release:
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY
DHS Department of Homeland Security
DHS Launches US-VISIT Program Nationwide to Enhance Security,
Office of the Press Secretary
January 5, 2004
WASHINGTON, DC -- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security today
launched US-VISIT, a new program to enhance the nation's security
while facilitating legitimate travel and trade through our borders.
New entry procedures took effect today for most foreign visitors
with non-immigrant visas at 115 airports and cruise ship terminals
at 14 seaports. The system utilizes biometrics, which are physical
characteristics unique to each individual, to verify identity.
Biometric technologies are the basis of an extensive array of highly
secure identification and personal verification solutions.
"Today marks the beginning of a new chapter in our government's
commitment to securing our nation while upholding America's ideals
about freedom of travel and the spirit of welcoming foreigner visitors," said
Tom Ridge, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, while
greeting passengers at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International
Airport. "US-VISIT is an important new element in the global
war against terrorism and will serve as a catalyst in the growing
international use of biometrics to expedite processing of travelers.
We want to show the world that we can keep our borders open and
our nation secure."
US-VISIT requires that most foreign visitors traveling to the
U.S. on a visa have their two index fingers scanned and a digital
photograph taken to verify their identity at the port of entry.
The US-VISIT program will enhance the security of U.S. citizens
and visitors by verifying the identity of visitors with visas.
At the same time, it facilitates legitimate travel and trade by
leveraging technology and the evolving use of biometrics to expedite
processing at our borders.
"US-VISIT represents the greatest improvement in border inspection
in more than three decades, and is a shining example of what we
can achieve when government works together," said Asa Hutchinson,
Under Secretary of Border and Transportation Security of the Department
of Homeland Security. "US-VISIT is actually a continuum of
security measures that begins overseas, at the U.S. consular offices
issuing visas, where biometrics will be collected to determine
if the applicant is on a database of known or suspected criminals
or terrorists. When the visitor gets to our border, we use the
same biometrics -- these digital "fingerscans" -- to
verify that the person at our port is the same person who received
the visa or to see if we have learned new information about any
involvement in terrorism or crime. This type of identity verification
helps our Customs and Border Protection Officers make better admissibility
decisions and enhances the overall integrity of our immigration
The Department of Homeland Security has been testing the new entry
procedures since November 17 at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International
Airport. The test showed that the new procedures add an average
of 15 seconds to the entry process at primary inspection for foreign
nationals traveling with visas. More than 20,000 passengers from
Central and South America, Europe, Asia and South Africa participated
in the voluntary test, which confirmed the program's ability to
verify identity without adding significant time to the process.
The Department of Homeland Security today also began a pilot test
of exit procedures for departing passengers holding visas. A departure
confirmation program using automated kiosks is being tested at
Baltimore-Washington International Airport and at selected Miami
Seaport cruise line terminals. Foreign visitors exiting the United
States from those locations will be required to confirm their departure
at the kiosk. US-VISIT officials will evaluate the tests and consider
alternatives to the automated kiosks for departure confirmation
Congress has mandated that an automated entry-exit program be
implemented at the 50 busiest land ports of entry by December 31,
2004, and at all land ports by December 31, 2005. A Request for
Proposal (RFP) was issued in November to engage the private sector
to help the US-VISIT program develop the optimum solutions for
entry and exit processing. The contract will be awarded in May
2004. For more information, visit www.dhs.gov/us-visit.