Departments of Homeland Security and State Request Extension for Biometric Passport Requirement, Visa Waiver Program Travelers to Be Enrolled in US-VISIT

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For Immediate ReleasePress OfficeContact: Kimberly Weissman, 202-927-8727Suzanne Luber, 202-282-8010April 2, 2004

The Department of Homeland Security and Department of State today announcedthat the Administration has asked Congress to pass legislation that would extendfor two years, the October 26, 2004 deadline for Visa Waiver Program (VWP)countries to have machine readable passports which include biometricidentifiers, and also for DHS to have readers for these biometric passports atall ports of entry.  In the context of this request, Homeland Securityannounced that it will begin processing visitors traveling under the VWP inUS-VISIT beginning by September 30, 2004, at air and sea ports of entry.

"In our ongoing collaboration between the Departments of State andHomeland Security, we are making two complementary decisions," said AsaHutchinson, Under Secretary of Border and Transportation Security of theDepartment of Homeland Security.  "Since most countries are unable tomeet the original October 2004 date to include biometrics in passports due toseveral technology-related reasons we have asked Congress for a two yearextension of that requirement.  Also, by September 30, visitors travelingunder the Visa Waiver Program who arrive at airports and seaports will beenrolled in US-VISIT."  

An estimated 13 million visitors from Visa Waiver Countries enter the U.S.each year.  Travelers from Visa Waiver Countries are allowed to enter theU.S. for up to 90 days for business or pleasure using only a passport.  

Homeland Security has coordinated with the Department of State on both ofthese issues.  "We are encouraged by the progress that has been madeby VWP countries to introduce biometrics into their passport program and we willwork with them to meet the mandated deadlines.  Since its inception onJanuary 5, 2004, it's clear that US-VISIT is working.  It's clean, it'squick, it's simple and without question, it is enhancing the integrity of ourimmigration systems, while protecting individual privacy," Under SecretaryHutchinson said.  

The following 27 countries are currently in the VWP: Andorra, Austria,Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland,Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand,Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland,and the United Kingdom (for citizens with the unrestricted right of permanentabode in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and theIsle of Man).

Since its launch in January, the US-VISIT program has helped DHS and DOSofficials intercept more than 200 persons with prior or suspected criminal orimmigration violations.  These included convicted rapists, drugtraffickers, individuals convicted of credit card fraud, a convicted armedrobber and numerous immigration violators and individuals attempting visa fraud.

Experience has shown that the US-VISIT enrollment process is fast and easyfor travelers and works as an added layer of security.  Since deployingUS-VISIT entry capabilities at 115 airports and 14 seaports on January 5, 2004,more than 2.5 million foreign nationals have been processed without adverselyimpacting wait times.

Currently, US-VISIT requires that most foreign visitors traveling to the U.S.on a visa and arriving at an air or sea port have their two index fingersscanned and a digital photograph taken to verify theirentity at the port ofentry.  By September 30, 2004, this process will also apply to visitorstraveling under the VWP at all air and seaports of entry.  

The U.S. is not alone is using biometrics to enhanceentity verificationand security.  The worldwide use of biometric technologies is the basis ofan extensive array of highly secureentification and personal verificationsolutions.  

Expanding enrollment of foreign nationals traveling under the VWP builds onthe Department's progress to secure our ports of entry without harming oureconomic security.    

For more information, visit www.dhs.gov/us-visit.