DHS to expand US-VISIT biometric collection

The Homeland Security Department will soon begin collecting digital fingerprints and photographs from lawful permanent residents of the United States and people seeking to enter the country on an immigration visa or as refugees.

The biometric data will be collected from additional groups of those persons when  they enter the U.S. starting Jan. 18 as part of DHS’ U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT), officials said Dec. 18. In a statement, DHS officials called the expansion a “positive step forward in a process designed to further improve public safety and national security while ensuring the integrity of the immigration system.”

The biometric data collected through US-VISIT program is used to conduct security checks on the visitors and verify their identities. The US-VISIT program already collects data from visitors entering on a non-immigrant visa and through a program known as the Visa Waiver Program.

The final rule published today in the Federal Register will expand US-VISIT to collect biometrics from:

• The U.S. lawful permanent residents or “green card” holders.

• People seeking admission on immigrant visas.

• People seeking admission as refugees and or seeking asylum.

• Some Canadian citizens.

• Those who apply for admission through the Guam Visa Waiver Program.

In many cases, Canadians will still not be required to give their biometrics when entering the U.S, nor will non-U.S. citizens under the age of 14 and over the age of 79.

The final rule also makes permanent an interim final rule that required the collection of biometrics from foreign nationals who seek admission under the U.S.’ Visa Waiver Program and travelers arriving at some land entry points, DHS said.

The policy change was criticized from the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Charles Kuck, president of the group, said the expansion of the program was premature and would harm the economy.

"The idea that lawful permanent residents, immigrants who have been living in the United States for years, will be subject to finger scans and other biometric data collection procedures when traveling to and from the U.S. is simply wrong and borders on the absurd," he said.

However, DHS said in a statement, “Collection and verification of biometric identifiers upon entry protects travelers by making it virtually impossible for anyone else to attempt to use their biometrically linked travel documents (such as a permanent resident card), such as if their documents were stolen or duplicated.”

DHS noted that US-VISIT is now operational for entry at 115 airports, 15 seaports, and 154 land border ports of entry.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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