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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE May 19, 2003

FACT SHEET: U.S.-VISIT PROGRAM

Pursuant to the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of the Department of State, is responsible for establishing an automated entry/exit system. The Department of Homeland Security has made the US-VISIT (United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology) program one of its top priorities. The US-VISIT, the Department's automated entry/exit system, will expedite legitimate travelers, while making it more difficult for those intending to do us harm to enter our nation. Specifically, the system will be designed to:

(1) Collect, maintain, and share information, including biometric identifiers, through a dynamic system, on foreign nationals to determine whether the individual:
Should be prohibited from entering the U.S.;
Can receive, extend, change, or adjust immigration status;
Has overstayed their visa; and/or
Needs special protection/attention (i.e., refugees); and

(2) Enhance traffic flow for individuals entering or exiting the U.S. for legitimate purpose by:
Facilitating travel and commerce;
Respecting the environment;
Strengthening international cooperation; and
Respecting privacy laws and policies


FUNDING


The US-VISIT program has been appropriated $380 million for FY 2003. Appropriations laws require that DHS meet certain conditions concerning submission and approval of an appropriate spending plan by Congress before we may obligate those funds. DHS is in the process of complying with those conditions. $5 million has been allocated for this purpose.



BIOMETRIC CAPABILITIES

Secretary Ridge announced in April that the US-VISIT system will be capable of capturing and reading a biometric identifier at air and sea ports of entry before the end of 2003. We anticipate that the system will be capable of scanning travel documents and taking fingerprints and pictures of foreign nationals, which then could be checked against databases to determine whether the individual should be detained or questioned concerning possible terrorist or criminal involvement.

Biometric identifiers must be consistent with standards established by the International Civil Aviation Organization ("ICAO"). The law also requires that air and sea ports of entry have readers in place capable of reading these documents.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology continues to study the use of fingerprints and photographs with travel documents. At a minimum, the US-VISIT system will utilize the existing fingerprint and photographic technology. Other biometric identifiers, such as facial recognition and iris scan, are still being studied.


COLLECTION, USE AND STORAGE OF INFORMATION


The US-VISIT system will be implemented incrementally, but eventually will collect information on the arrival and departure of most foreign nationals such as: date; nationality; classification as an immigrant or non-immigrant; complete name; date of birth; citizenship; sex; passport number and country of issuance; country of residence; U.S. visa number, date and place of issuance (where applicable); alien registration number (where applicable); and complete address while in the United States. The information will be stored in databases maintained by DHS and the Department of State as part of an individual's travel record.

The information in the US-VISIT system will be available to inspectors at ports of entry, special agents in the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), adjudications staff at immigration services offices, U.S. consular offices, and other law enforcement agencies. This information will be made available only to authorized officials for official duties including, identifying non-immigrants who may have overstayed their visas or otherwise violated the terms of their admission, assisting in the adjudication of immigration benefits, and assisting other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies as necessary.

VISA WAIVER COUNTRIES AND THE ADVANCED PASSENGER INFORMATION SYSTEM

The Visa Waiver Permanent Program Act of 2000 directed the collection of records of arrival and departure for every alien who travels by sea or air and who is provided a waiver under the VWP. The Act required that these air and sea VWP records be incorporated into an automated entry exit system. As of October 1, 2002, passenger arrival and departure information on individuals entering and leaving the U.S. under the VWP has been electronically collected from airlines and cruise lines, through the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS) system, and no visa waiver may be granted to an alien if the carrier does not submit such data electronically.

APIS sends this data to ICE's Arrival and Departure Information System (ADIS) for matching arrivals and departures and reporting purposes. The ADIS sends all arrival information on students to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) which enables ICE to notify the schools that a new foreign student has arrived and should be arriving at their school within 30 days.

Currently, inspectors collect the following information contained on a travel document: name, date of birth, nationality, gender, passport number, document number, document type (passport, visa), country of issuance. In addition, APIS collects carrier information such as flight number, airport of departure and other data.

THE NATIONAL SECURITY ENTRY EXIT REGISTRATION SYSTEM ("NSEERS")

NSEERS was a pilot project focusing on a smaller segment of the nonimmigrant alien population deemed to be of risk to national security. Inspectors at ports of entry have the discretion, based on national security criteria and intelligence reports, to refer an individual from any country to a more detailed secondary inspection. Also, under NSEERS, males born on or before November 15, 1986, and who are nationals of designated countries, were required to register at a local district immigration office. The process included an interview by an immigration inspector or adjudicator and the collection of fingerprints and a photograph.

When the US-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.

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