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VISIT Entry/Exit System Announced

by Maurice Belanger of the National Immigration Forum

On May 19 Asa Hutchinson, Undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security, revealed some details about the Visitor and Immigration Status Indication Technology System (VISIT System), announced in late April by Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge. The VISIT System is the name being given to the entry-exit system mandated by Congress, and scheduled to be implemented at airports and seaports of entry by the end of this year.

The system will scan travel documents and use two biometric identifiers to establish the identity of persons entering the U.S. Each person will be photographed and fingerprinted upon entering the U.S., and the information will be checked against government databases. (Visitors requiring a visa should have biometric identifiers recorded at consular offices). The system will collect other information currently collected by the I-94 Arrival/Departure form (information about age, sex, nationality, passport information, residence, and address while in the U.S.). When a visitor departs the U.S., this information will be matched to the arrival record, identifying persons who may have overstayed their visas (or allotted time).

Undersecretary Hutchinson also announced that the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE) will establish an Office of Compliance that will be responsible for reviewing information on visa violations, and pass information to field enforcement units for investigation, if appropriate.

Hutchinson noted that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will oversee the visa issuance process. (The State Department, meanwhile, is planning to greatly expand the number of visa seekers it will interview in person. About 60 percent of foreign visitors come to the U.S. from countries where a visa is needed to gain entry to the U.S. Nationals of 27 countries, most in Europe, may enter the U.S. for a brief visit without a visa in the Visa Waiver program.)

To the extent that the VISIT program is applied to all visitors and replaces the more nationality-specific NSEERS program, reaction has been positive, with qualifications. A number of questions remain unanswered. Will DHS have the capacity to implement this system without making entry into the U.S. an ordeal? Officials estimate that the system will add about "20 seconds" to the time it takes to enter the U.S. That may not sound like much, but if there are no additional personnel to process arriving passengers at airports, the wait for those in the back of the line will be significantly longer. Databases against which information will be checked must be accurate, or many innocent people may be denied entry based on incorrect information.

Remarks by Undersecretary Hutchinson, where information on the VISIT system is discussed, may be found on the DHS website at:

A Fact Sheet on the VISIT system can be found at:

The Forum's reaction can be found in a Press Release at:

Confusion About NSEERS

Officials have implied that the VISIT system will make the National Security Entry Exit System (NSEERS) unnecessary. However, there is still confusion about the relationship between NSEERS and the entry-exit system mandated by Congress, which the VISIT system appears to be. Will persons who have already registered in the NSEERS program still have to re-register in 30 days, annually, and also leave from designated ports of entry? Will persons arriving in the U.S. still be subject to extra scrutiny if they are from the NSEERS-designated countries?

Confusion about entry/exit, NSEERS, and the relation between these programs has conspicuously not been clarified. Recently, for example, Kris Kobach, Counsel to the Attorney General, spoke on a panel briefing in Washington. He said that one of four goals of NSEERS was to "help [the administration] meet entry-exit deadlines" set by Congress. Generally, the two are implied to be connected when the administration is defending itself from concerns that NSEERS is discriminatory, applied on the basis of national origin. It is hard to understand, however, how NSEERS could help the administration meet deadlines set by Congress for an entirely different program. Much more information is obtained from visitors subjected to the NSEERS system in a process that takes 15 minutes per person at a port of entry, according to Kobach. The VISIT system is supposed to add 20 seconds to the time it takes to enter the U.S. now.

Kobach acknowledged that, when the entry-exit system comes on line, "elements" of NSEERS will be "folded in" to the new system, but some people will still be treated differently. The "Fact Sheet" published by the Department of Homeland Security, says that when the VISIT system is fully implemented, "it will provide the information necessary to account for nearly all temporary foreign visitors in the United States. Any remaining elements of NSEERS, such as port of entry arrival registration, will become part of the US-VISIT system."

In the meantime, those who are subject to NSEERS may find themselves in trouble, thinking that NSEERS has been replaced.

Was NSEERS a Success?

With the end (of at least the first phase) of NSEERS, the administration claimed that the program was a success. That depends on what the goals were. 133,000 male, predominantly Muslim, immigrants and visitors were interviewed. More than 700 were apprehended for criminal convictions or prior deportations. 13,000 "Notices to Appear" have been issued (beginning removal proceedings). These are statistics generated from the selective enforcement (based on national origin) of regular immigration laws. NSEERS, however, was supposed to be a national security initiative. To that end, the administration claimed that "11 suspected terrorists" were caught in the NSEERS program. No one, however, was charged with a terrorist-related offense, so this claim is difficult to evaluate.

Resource: Report on NSEERS "Call-in" Experiences

The American Immigration Law Foundation (AILF) published a report summarizing the experiences of 266 persons around the country in the "call-in" special registration program. The experiences of these persons, who filled out a web-based questionnaire, paint a picture of confusion, and inconsistency, as the INS suddenly had to implement a program for which it was not prepared. The report, "Inconsistency, Confusion, and Chaos: Experiences With Call-In Special Registration," was conducted with the cooperation of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the National Immigration Forum, and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. It can be found on line on the website of AILF at:

About The Author

Maurice Belanger is a senior policy associate at National Immigration Forum.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.