United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US VISIT)
US-VISIT was created as part of a continuum of security measures that begins overseas and continues through a visitor's arrival in and departure from the United States. It incorporates eligibility determinations made by both the Departments of Homeland Security and State. The laws authorizing US-VISIT were established in accordance with several United States Congressional mandates requiring that the Department of Homeland Security create an integrated, automated entry-exit system that:
- Records the arrival and departure of aliens
- Deploys equipment at all ports of entry to allow for the verification of aliens' identities and the authentication of their travel documents through the comparison of biometric identifiers
- Utilizes an entry-exit system that records alien arrival and departure information from these biometrically authenticated documents
The goals of the program are to enhance the security of US citizens and visitors, facilitate legitimate travel and trade, ensure the integrity of the US immigration system, and to protect the privacy of US visitors.
US-VISIT consists of representatives from the various components of DHS responsible for border security, including the Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the U.S. Coast Guard. Other DHS components that assist the US-VISIT team include the Directorate for Management and the Science and Technology Directorate. In addition, outside DHS, the team consists of representatives from the Departments of Transportation, State, Commerce, and Justice, and the General Services Administration.
DHS also established a US-VISIT Advisory Board to provide guidance and counsel in setting the overall vision and strategic direction for US-VISIT. This board provided the communications link for aligning the strategic direction, priorities, and resources both within DHS and with the other government agencies that participate in the development and implementation of US-VISIT.
The Secretary of Homeland Security is responsible for enforcing the provisions, which are the basis for establishing a comprehensive entry and exit process. Within the Department of Homeland Security, the Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security is responsible for implementing US-VISIT.
Enrollment in US-VISIT for visitors applying for a visa is done overseas at the visa-issuing post where each visitor has his or her biographic and biometric information - two index fingerscans and a digital photograph - captured by a State Department official.
Upon a visitor's arrival in the United States, a U.S. CBP Officer uses an inkless digital fingerscanner to electronically capture two fingerscans. The visitor is asked to put the left index finger and then the right index finger on the scanner. The CBP Officer also takes a digital photograph of the visitor. The biographic and biometric data is used to match the visitor with the travel documents and is compared against watch lists. The CBP Officer asks questions about the visitor's stay in the United States. At that point, the CBP Officer either admits the visitor or conducts additional inquiries based on the verification results. These procedures are designed to reduce fraud, identity theft, and the risk that terrorists and criminals would enter the United States undetected.
For all travelers, if the data provided indicates possible national security concerns, other law enforcement concerns, improper documentation, or any other ground of inadmissibility to the United States, then the officer will refer the visitor for additional screening or assistance.
While in the United States, should the visitor seek to adjust status or extend his or her stay, US-VISIT would be updated with any modifications to the individual's status.
On 5 January 2004, US-VISIT began a pilot test of departure confirmation systems. The exit pilot program expanded to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport in August 2004 and was further expanded to the following airports and seaports by November 2004:
- Atlanta, Georgia (William B. Hartsfield International Airport)
- Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas (Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport)
- Denver, Colorado (Denver International Airport)
- Detroit, Michigan (Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport)
- Ft. Lauderdale, Florida (Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport)
- Newark, New Jersey (Newark International Airport)
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia International Airport)
- Phoenix, Arizona (Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport)
- San Francisco, California (San Francisco International Airport)
- San Juan, Puerto Rico (Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport)
- Seattle, Washington (Seattle/Tacoma International Airport)
- Los Angeles, California (San Pedro and Long Beach Seaports)
Arrival and departure records are stored in the Arrival/Departure Information System (ADIS). This information would prove whether an individual has complied with the admission terms of his or her visa. It was important that visitors comply with and go through the departure confirmation system so that they do not jeopardize their re-admittance to the United States. ADIS data is constantly updated and if a visitor overstays his or her allotted time, US VISIT records the failure to depart. In addition, US-VISIT is able to compare arrival and departure biographical manifest data provided by the airlines and cruise lines to know when a visitor entered and exited the country.
Checking out of the country using the US-VISIT exit procedure was mandatory where an exit solution is in place at the port of departure. If visitors failed to check out through these facilities, it would affect their ability to re-enter the country. Eventually, all airports and seaports may contain exit stations or other alternatives. People would not be penalized if an exit solution is not yet installed at their point of departure. As of March 2005, the DHS is working aggressively to communicate these procedures to make sure all visitors understand what they need to do. U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers and various transportation companies are distributing cards that provide instructions for the exit requirements and procedures at those ports of departure.
The Department of Homeland Security published a federal register notice on 5 January 2004 that indicated the classes of foreign nationals that were initially required to comply with the US-VISIT biometric requirements. It also listed the airports and seaports where the entry and exit components of the US-VISIT Program were initially operational. Specific classes of diplomats and some other officials are exempt from biometric enrollment under US-VISIT. Visitors under age 14 and over age 79 are also exempt from US-VISIT procedures.
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