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Homeland Security

06 January 2004

New U.S. Entry Procedures Enhance Security, Preserve Welcoming Spirit

US-VISIT program launched January 5

By Lale Kuyumcu
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The U.S. government has implemented new entry procedures for visa-bearing visitors to the United States to enhance U.S. national security while preserving America's welcoming spirit.

The procedures, which went into effect January 5 at 115 airports and 14 seaports in the United States, involve two additional steps to the entry process -- making digital fingerprints of the visitors' left and right index fingers and taking a digital photograph of them. The procedures add about 15 seconds to the entry process. The procedures apply to international travelers requiring visas to enter the United States.

The new procedures, called the US-VISIT (United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology) program, were developed and implemented by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

"US-VISIT is a new tool that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is providing to our front line officers to make sure that we are doing everything we can to enhance national security while preserving our nation's welcoming spirit," said Robert Mocny, deputy director of US-VISIT, at a live demonstration of the program at Washington Dulles International Airport outside Washington January 5.

"America has been and always will be a welcoming country," added Mocny.

Deputy Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection Douglass Browning said the new procedures are "the greatest advance in primary inspection in three decades."

The US-VISIT program will intensify focus on at-risk travelers while facilitating the entry of people who pose low or no risk, said Browning. "At the same time the program will insure the integrity of the immigration system and safeguard the privacy of visitors to our country," he said.

Mocny said the information gathered will be divulged only to authorized officials on a need-to-know basis and will be governed by the Privacy Act at all times.

"In fact, US-VISIT actually helps protect the privacy of our visitors against identity theft through lost or stolen travel documents," said Mocny.

Many of the arrival procedures remained unchanged such as presenting travel documents like a passport and a visa and answering specific questions regarding the visitor's stay in the United States.

Mocny said the US-VISIT program has provisions to protect the privacy of travelers who object to having their pictures taken in public because of religious and other reasons.

The procedures took "no time at all," said Tom Santo of the United Kingdom, a passenger on an incoming flight, who is employed in the United States on a working visa.

The added security measures are "no big deal to me," said Ralph Huppi of Switzerland, who travels to the United States for work several times a month. "If it helps security, it's the right thing to do."

International travelers are shown an informational video and receive handouts onboard the plane prior to arrival. In addition, more information is provided at the immigration inspection station at the airport.

The biometric information of visa holders is obtained when the visas are issued and is verified at the travelers' point of entry into the United States. The biometric information is especially useful in screening travelers with the same names and similar biographical data as known and suspected terrorists and criminals, U.S. officials say.

In addition to enhancing security, the US-VISIT program reduces fraud, facilitates legitimate travel and trade, and safeguards the personal privacy of visitors. Mocny said gathering biometric information will be the trend for international travel in the near future.

The DHS says US-VISIT procedures apply to all visitors with nonimmigrant visas between the ages of 14 and 79, with exceptions for specific classes of diplomats and some other officials. U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (green card holders) are not included in the program.

Citizens of the 27 visa waiver countries, who enter the United States for visits of 90 days or less, do not need a U.S. visa and therefore do not fall under the US-VISIT program.

Visitors who may be required to register under the U.S. National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) will be notified directly by an immigration officer at the primary inspection station in the airport according to Shonnie Lyon, Director of Implementation Management for US-VISIT. Currently a visitor will either "fall under the US-VISIT process or NSEERS. It will not be both."

The DHS says US-VISIT's entry and exit procedures will eventually replace the more cumbersome registration requirements of the NSEERS program.

The first day of the US-VISIT program implementation also marked the beginning of a pilot program in exit procedures. A departure confirmation program using automated kiosks is being tested at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and at selected Miami Seaport cruise line terminals.  US-VISIT officials will evaluate and consider other alternatives including hand held devices for departure confirmation throughout 2004, according to Lyon.

More information about US-VISIT is available at www.dhs.gov/us-visit.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

This page printed from: http://usinfo.state.gov/xarchives/display.html?p=washfile-english&y=2004&m=January&x=20040106165557xlucmuyuk0.1858179&t=usinfo/wf-latest.html

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