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US-VISIT Frequently Asked Questions

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Background Information - Introduction

US-VISIT is a top priority for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security because it enhances security for our citizens and visitors while facilitating legitimate travel and trade across our borders.

US-VISIT is part of a continuum of security measures that begins overseas, when a person applies for a visa to travel to the United States, and continues from their arrival to and departure from the United States.  It incorporates eligibility determinations made by both the Departments of Homeland Security and State.

The goals of US-VISIT are to

  • Enhance the security of our citizens and visitors
  • Facilitate legitimate travel and trade
  • Ensure the integrity of our immigration system
  • Protect the privacy of our visitors

US-VISIT procedures currently apply to all visitors (with limited exemptions) holding non-immigrant visas, regardless of country of origin.

On September 30, 2004, US-VISIT entry and exit procedures expand to include visitors traveling to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) who arrive at airports and seaports.

What are the laws authorizing US-VISIT?

US-VISIT has been established in accordance with several 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 aliensa^?(TM) 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.

Key Legal References

  • The Illegal Immigration and Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.
  • The Immigration and Naturalization Service Data Management Improvement Act of 2000.
  • The USA PATRIOT Act of 2001.
  • The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2001.

How did the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 affect the implementation of the system?

The tragic acts of September 11, 2001 increased the urgency to create a comprehensive entry and exit system, and Congress passed two important acts that have a significant impact on US-VISIT:

  • In the USA PATRIOT Act, Congress expressed a requirement for a^?oespeeda^?? in the implementation and included the requirement that the White House Office of Homeland Security (OHS) be consulted with respect to the establishment of the entry and exit program.  The PATRIOT Act also introduced the concept of biometrics to establish a technology standard that would be used in the development of US-VISIT.
  • The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act expanded on the USA PATRIOT Act and the Data Management Improvement Act by mandating increased requirements for US-VISIT Program integration, interoperability with other law enforcement and intelligence systems, biometrics, and accessibility.  

What agencies under the Department of Homeland Security are working together to create US-VISIT?  What other Departments or agencies are working with DHS?

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, 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.  

In addition, we have established a US-VISIT Advisory Board to provide guidance and counsel in setting the overall vision and strategic direction for US-VISIT.  This board will also provide 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.

Who is responsible for enforcing the program?

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.

How do US-VISIT entry procedures work?

US-VISIT is part of a continuum of security measures that begins overseas, when a person applies for a visa to travel to the United States, and continues from their arrival to and departure from the United States.  It incorporates eligibility determinations made by both the Departments of Homeland Security and State.  

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 a^??g two index fingerscans and a digital photograph a^??g captured by a State Department official.  

By October 2004, all 211 visa-issuing posts will deploy US-VISIT as part of the visa process.  The US-VISIT biometric procedure has already prevented known criminals from getting visas in the first place.  

US-VISIT entry procedures are currently in place at 115 airports and 14 seaports.  By the end of this year, US-VISIT will expand to the 50 busiest land ports of entry.  

Upon a visitora^?(TM)s arrival in the United States, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection 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 U.S. Customs and Border Protection 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 U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer asks questions about the visitora^?(TM)s stay in the United States.  At that point, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer either admits the visitor or conducts additional inquiries based on the verification results. These procedures should reduce fraud, identity theft, and the risk that terrorists and criminals will enter the United States undetected.

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 individuala^?(TM)s status.  

How does a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer determine that a person requires additional or secondary screening?

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.

What is the process for visitors with visas exiting the United States?

On January 5, 2004, US-VISIT began a pilot test of departure confirmation systems, using automated exit stations at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Miami International Cruise Line Terminal.  When leaving the country from these two ports, visitors with visas check out at an exit station located within the secure area of the airport or seaport.  Here, visitors with visas scan their travel documents and repeat the digital fingerscanning process on the inkless device.  If additional assistance is needed, a       US-VISIT exit attendant is available to assist with the fingerscanning and document scanning process.

The exit pilot program expanded to Chicagoa^?(TM)s Oa^?(TM)Hare International Airport in August 2004 and will be 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 MuA?}oz Marin International Airport)
  • Seattle, Washington (Seattle/Tacoma International Airport)
  • Los Angeles, California (San Pedro and Long Beach Seaports)

The exit procedures being piloted require foreign visitors to check out at an exit station or with a US VISIT exit attendant at the departure gate at the port.  Foreign visitors will go though one of the following processes, depending on location.

  • Under one alternative, visitors departing the United States will check out of the country at exit stations located within the airport or seaport terminal.   As with the process the visitors encounter upon entry at airports or seaports, their travel documents are read, their two index fingers will be scanned at the exit station, their digital picture will be taken, and they will receive a printed receipt that verifies that they have checked out. An exit attendant will be available to assist with visitorsa^?(TM) check out.
  • The second alternative still uses the exit station but includes an additional step a^??g verifying a^??g at the departure gate.  Visitors will be required to present the receipt at their departure gate to confirm that they checked out at the exit station.  The exit attendant will scan the receipt and then ask the visitor to place an index finger on the scanning device.  Once the persona^?(TM)s identity is matched to the receipt, the exit attendant will hand the visitor her receipt back and the visitor will board.
  • Another alternative under the pilot program is a biometric check-out process with a US VISIT exit attendant at visitorsa^?(TM) departure gates.

As of September 30, 2004, US-VISIT entry and exit procedures expand to include visitors traveling to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) arriving at airports and seaports.

What happens after a person checks out?  How quickly will you know if they have overstayed their visit?

The arrival and departure records are stored in the Arrival/Departure Information System (ADIS).  This information will prove whether an individual has complied with the admission terms of his or her visa.  It is 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.

What happens if a visitor checks in at an airport where the entry procedures are operational, then tries to leave the United States from an airport where the exit processing is not yet in place?

Checking out of the country using the US-VISIT exit procedure is mandatory where an exit solution is in place at the port of departure.  If visitors fail to check out through these facilities, it could affect their ability to re-enter the country.  Eventually, all airports and seaports may contain exit stations or other alternatives.  People will not be penalized if an exit solution is not yet installed at their point of departure.  We are 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.

How will you determine if a visitor has overstayed his or her visit?

Arrival and departure records are reconciled, and any inconsistency allows US-VISIT to determine that a visitor has overstayed.

Currently, we are able to compare arrival and departure biographical manifest data provided by the airlines and cruise lines to know when someone entered and exited the country.

What are the consequences for an individual who overstays his or her visa?

Depending upon the individual circumstances, an individual who violates immigration laws by overstaying his or her period of admission may be subject to removal from the United States and may be barred from future entry or from receiving a new visa.

Will US-VISIT apply to people of all ages (babies, the elderly, disabled, etc.)?

US-VISIT currently applies to foreign visitors seeking admission on non-immigrant visas.  As of September 30, 2004, it includes visitors seeking admission under the Visa Waiver Program.  

At this time, US-VISIT does not apply to foreign visitors seeking entry at land border ports of entry.

Specific classes of diplomats and some other officials are exempt from biometric enrollment under US-VISIT.  There are also other exemptions.  For example, visitors under age 14 and over age 79 are exempt from US-VISIT procedures.  

The Department of Homeland Security published a federal register notice on January 5, 2004 that indicates the classes of foreign nationals that are initially required to comply with the US-VISIT biometric requirements and also lists the airports and seaports where the entry and exit components of the US-VISIT Program will initially be operational.  

Will US-VISIT hurt U.S. trade and tourism?

To the contrary, US-VISIT enhances trade and tourism.  By making America a safer place to visit and conduct business, US-VISIT enhances our economic security.  In fact, US-VISIT sets an international standard in border security, and other nations are in the process of adopting systems similar to our own.  Over time, new tools like the worldwide use of biometric identifiers will speed identity authentication, making check-in/check-out faster and more efficient.  It is also hoped that better identity matching at primary processing will mean fewer people will be sent to secondary processing.

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