United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology Program
Author: Patty Ornst 202.861.8096
What’s at issue?
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, highlighted the need to improve national security by returning integrity to U.S. border management. This requires developing better methods for identifying aliens who should not be admitted to the country, as well as those who overstay their lawful admission periods. The US VISIT program – United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology – is a complex border management system designed to strengthen the supervision of the pre-entry, entry, status, and exit of foreign nationals who travel to the United States. The goals of the program are to enhance national security, facilitate legitimate trade and travel, ensure the integrity of the immigration system, and adhere to U.S. privacy laws.
Under US-VISIT, most foreign visitors with nonimmigrant visas (except for those under the age of 14 or over the age of 79) will have their two-index fingers scanned and a digital photograph taken to verify their identity upon their arrival at the port of entry.
On April 2, DHS announced that by September 30, 2004, US VISIT procedures would be expanded to include visitors traveling to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) arriving at sea and ports of entry. This would add an estimated 13 million passengers.
An extension is being sought to an October 26, 2004, deadline set in the Enhanced Border Security Act of 2002 for countries in the VWP to certify that they have programs in place to issue their nationals machine-readable passports that incorporate biometric identifiers that comply with standards established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). According to the mandate, any passport issued on or after October 26, 2004, must be an ICAO – compliant travel document that uses biometrics, if the bearer applies for admission into the United States under the VWP.
Due to technical challenges, few countries will be able to meet the October 26, 2004 deadline. Therefore, a two- year extension is being requested by the Administration to make it possible for countries to comply with this mandate. At present, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will not apply the biometric collection requirements to Canadian citizens who travel on temporary visits to the U.S. and do not apply for entry on the basis of nonimmigrant visas. There is a link below to an updated US-VISIT Fact Sheet.
DHS had tested the new entry procedures since November 17, 2003, at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and maintains that the new procedures add an average of 15 seconds to the primary inspection of foreign passengers with visas. There is a link below to a US-VISIT Fact Sheet on the Atlanta pilot program. The first phase of US-VISIT was rolled out January 5, 2004 at 115 airports and 14 seaports to track the entry of foreign visitors into the United States, and the system is expected to be implemented at the 50 largest land border entry points by the end of the year. DHS started testing exit procedures for airports at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and for seaports at the Royal Caribbean Cruise Terminal in Miami. It plans to run exit pilots at 15 US airports within next couple of months and to phase in exit procedures at all US-VISIT designated airports during 2004.
AAAE/ACI-NA Legislative Affairs Actions
A number of congressional hearings have been held on Capitol Hill on the implementation of the US-VISIT program. On March 4th, David Plavin, president of Airports Council International –North America, testified on behalf of the members of ACI-NA, ACI World and the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) before the House Government Reform Committee on the goals and challenges of the US-VISIT Program.
Three areas concerning airports include entry staffing issues and performance standards, financial issues, and exit elements. Historically the facilitation agencies have understaffed airports, and with the high traffic season approaching, if US-VISIT is not adequately staffed at the entry portion, it could exacerbate passenger and aircraft delays.
Airports believe US-VISIT should publish standards for the clearing of passengers and aircraft in order to compare with actual clearance times to gauge how well the system is functioning and to decide what improvements at individual airports and system-wide are necessary.
Airports also want Congress and the Department of Homeland Security to ensure adequate funding prior to the implementation of the program’s exit portion. Previous experience with the Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration has demonstrated the peril of forging ahead with operational programs without secured financial means. Therefore, airports believe the funding should cover the space and services (such as utilities) used by US-VISIT. The success of the exit portion of the US –VISIT program will be determined by the proper placement of the exit process. Airports believe in most cases the effective placement will be at departure gates, but because each airport is unique, US-VISIT needs to consult with airports and airlines on this measure. Also, test pilot programs are critical and US-VISIT should sample a variety of technologies and placements at an array of airports to provide a sound basis for determining the best exit system for each airport.
Hearing Report: Before the Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims, March 18, 2004
Hearing Report: Before the House Government Reform Committee, March 4, 2004 http://airportnet.org/secure/federal/hearings/2004/hr0304a.htm
US-VISIT Regulation http://www.dhs.gov/interweb/assetlibrary/USVisitRegulation1-5-04.pdf