U.S. Immigration Service Implements New Entry-Exit Procedures

A new technology program that records the entry and exit of nonimmigrant visa holders visiting the United States went into effect earlier this month at many U.S. ports of entry. The United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US VISIT) program is designed to track the amount of time nonimmigrant visa holders spend in the United States and to alert the government of those who remain beyond the expiration of their authorized stay.

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the goal of US VISIT is to track the millions of people who come to the United States every year on business, student and tourist visas - and to use the information as a tool against terrorists.

As of Jan. 5, 2004, the entry process of US VISIT is in effect at most major U.S. points of entry, but the exit process has only been implemented at one airport and one seaport. The system will continue to be implemented at various airports, seaports and land crossings over the next two years and is required by law to be operational at all ports of entry by Dec. 31, 2005.

How does US VISIT work?

When a visa holder arrives in the United States, two digital fingerprints and a digital photo will be taken of the visa holder at the primary inspections booth. Visa holders will have to complete this process during every entry into the United States. The US VISIT process is only required at ports of entry that are equipped with the US VISIT system. At present, the US VISIT entry system is operational at 115 airports and 14 seaports. For a list of these airports and seaports, click here.

Visa holders exiting the United States will have to go through a similar process. As with the entry system, the US VISIT exit process is only required at ports equipped with the US VISIT kiosk. The exit system is currently only operational at the Baltimore-Washington Airport and the Miami Seaport. The kiosks are self-service, resemble ATM machines, and attendants will be on hand to assist in their use.

Who is affected by US VISIT?

The new US VISIT program applies to any visitors who must have a visa to enter the United States. Travelers who are not required to have a visa will not be included in US VISIT. These mainly include Canadians and nationals of Visa Waiver countries whose visit is less than 90 days. The Visa Waiver program includes more than two dozen countries, including many European countries, Japan, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Brunei. However, even nationals of these countries, if they must have a visa (such as L, E, H, O or J visas), will be required to go through the US VISIT process. Legal permanent residents (green card holders) and U.S. citizens are not included in US VISIT. In addition, children under the age of 14 and those over the age of 79 are exempt from the program.

What effect will US VISIT have?

The US VISIT process is designed to be quick and efficient and cause minimal delays. The government's current estimated time for this process is between 10 and 15 seconds. However, the process may take longer than the government's estimated time. At present, the process is very new and it should become more efficient with time.

Information collected in the US VISIT process will be checked against the Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) database. The IDENT check takes place after the visa holder has entered the United States. In addition, the visa holder's information will also be checked against other U.S. government databases for criminal backgrounds and terrorist lists.

In conjunction with the procedures at the ports of entry, all consular posts abroad will be required to issue biometric visas by Oct. 26, 2004. These will contain the same fingerprint and digital photo information that US VISIT requires. This system is already in place in Vancouver, B.C., Canada and it currently takes three days for the IDENT clearance.

How does US VISIT relate to NSEERS?

It is expected that the entry-exit procedures of US VISIT and The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) will be merged in the future, but at present the two programs are administered separately. NEERS is a special registration system that applies to males 16 years of age or older who are citizens of specified countries (Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria). The NSEERS program was first adopted in August 2002 and it required nationals of the selected countries to register at the local immigration office to be photographed and fingerprinted. It also required newly arrived persons to be fingerprinted and photographed on arrival, to report to the local immigration office within 30 days after arrival, to re-register with the local immigration office annually, and to also to comply with certain departure control procedures. (See DWT eblast NW 2002 for further details). The NSEERS rules were amended on Dec. 2, 2003 to suspend the 30-day and annual re-registration rules.

For further information please feel free to contact us:

Richard M. Rawson, Seattle, (206) 628-7746, [email protected]
Christopher R. Helm, Seattle, (206) 628-7671, [email protected]
James M. Mei, Portland, (503) 778-5315, cell: (503) 780-4784, [email protected]
Cathy Braun, Paralegal, Seattle, (206) 628-7145, [email protected]
Jeff Dybdahl, Paralegal, Portland, (503) 778-5287, [email protected]

This Immigration Alert is a publication of the Immigration Department of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP. Our purpose in publishing this Alert is to inform our clients and friends of recent developments in immigration law. It is not intended, nor should it be used, as a substitute for specific legal advice as legal counsel may only be given in response to inquiries regarding particular situations.