US VISIT Program

A review of the U.S. VISIT Program that was implemented by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on January 5, 2004

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 highlighted the need to improve the national security of the United States. In response to this need the DHS implemented “The United States Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology Program” (US VISIT) which is designed to improve overall border management through the collection of arrival and departure information on foreign visitors and immigrants who travel through the borders of the United States. The major goal for the implementation of the US VISIT program are to improve the security of US Citizens and visitors, expedite legitimate travel and trade, ensure the integrity of the US Immigration System and safeguard the privacy of all visitors.

The US VISIT system requires all ports of entry to the United States to be equipped for verification of alien’s identities and authentication of their travel documents through comparison of biometric identifiers. The Entry –Exit System has the ability to record the alien’s arrival and departure information from these biometrically authenticated documents. 115 airports across the country and 14 seaports are equipped with this new automated system.

In addition to background checks, the recorded information will also track the arrival and departure of visitors and flag those who overstay their departure. That information will be used to block illegal aliens from applying and receiving federal benefits available to legal immigrants, and can bar them from re-entering the country on other visits. At the same time this system will also facilitate legitimate travel, commerce, tourism, education, international communication and other benefits that flow from welcoming law-abiding citizens of other countries to the United States.

According to the DHS, the US VISIT program will apply only to non-immigrant visa holders. US Citizens, Permanent Residents, Aliens entering the United States on a Visa Waiver Program and Canadian Citizens are exempt from the US VISIT program.

Although the goal for implementing the US VISIT program is to secure our borders, some critics have voiced their concerns over the fair implementation of this program. The American Civil Liberties Union stated concerns over the fact that US-VISIT’s privacy policy was not made public until after the system went on line. The travel data is supposed to be stored securely and released only to authorized officials on a need-to-know basis, however some visitors fear that their personal information could be abused and just hope that their privacy is well protected. There is also a concern about the length of time personal information will be stored and misuse of the data for purposes not related to law enforcement and immigration laws. Some critics have also raised concerns over the US VISIT program excluding citizens of certain countries. If security is a major concern then this program should include visitors from all countries. However the DHS is assuring that they are trying to ensure the safety of our country and will implement a system that is fair to all who visit the United States.

The author, Aparna Davé is an immigration attorney, with a J.D. from Boston University and a B.A. in Sociology. She has worked at the Immigration Clinic of Harvard Law School and was a member of Boston University School of Law’s Public Interest Law Journal.









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