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DHS Implements US-VISIT Program with Biometric Technology

New York, Jan 05, 2004

A new program launched today by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is utilizing biometrics to enhance the nation's security while facilitating legitimate travel and trade at 115 airports and cruise ship terminals at 14 seaports. The United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program affects most foreign visitors with non-immigrant visas.

According to DHS Secretary Tom Ridge, “US-VISIT is an important new element in the global war against terrorism and will serve as a catalyst in the growing international use of biometrics to expedite processing of travelers. We want to show the world that we can keep our borders open and our nation secure.”

To capture the biometric information and ascertain the identity of a visa holder, a small box scans the visitor’s two index fingers while a camera takes a digital photograph. The information will help to create a database for use by law enforcement. Individuals that raise a red flag may be detained or questioned concerning possible terrorist or criminal involvement.

Biometric identifiers (e.g., fingerprints) must be consistent with standards established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which is a specialized agency of the United Nations whose mandate is to ensure the safe, efficient and orderly evolution of international civil aviation. An ICAO technical advisory group developed specifications on Machine Readable Travel Documents (MRTD) that cover the use of machine assisted identity confirmation, the generic personal identification features that apply, and the locations and technologies wherein the required identity details would be recorded (or derived).

Further, according to the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of State shall jointly establish document authentication standards and biometric identifiers standards to be employed on visas and other travel and entry documents from among those biometric identifiers recognized by domestic and international standards organizations. By October 26, 2004, only machine-readable documents that use biometrics may be issued. Countries in the Visa Waiver Program must certify that they have programs to issue their nationals machine-readable passports that incorporate biometric identifiers that comply with ICAO standards by this same date.

To view an overview presentation given by Jim Williams, US-VISIT Program Director, Department of Homeland Security, at the Biometrics Consortium Conference, click here. For more information, visit

See related story: Biometric Standards and Technology Face 2004 Deadline at U.S Borders

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