Safety & Security of U.S. Borders: Biometrics
The United States is committed to “secure borders, open doors,” by welcoming and facilitating legitimate travel to the United States by international visitors while maintaining the integrity and security of our borders and our nation. The U.S. continues to work to ensure that access to our country is not impeded for legitimate international travelers.
In the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002, the U.S. Congress mandated the use of biometrics in U.S. visas. This law requires that U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad must issue to international visitors, "only machine-readable, tamper-resistant visas and other travel and entry documents that use biometric identifiers. Additionally, the Homeland Security Council decided that the U.S. standard for biometric screening is ten fingerprint scans collected at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates for visa applicants seeking to come to the United States.
What is a Biometric?
A biometric or biometric identifier is an objective measurement of a physical characteristic of an individual which, when captured in a database, can be used to verify the identity or check against other entries in the database. The best known biometric is the fingerprint, but others include facial recognition and iris scans.
Making Us Safer - International Visitors
The use of these identifiers is an important link in U.S. national security, because fingerprints taken will be compared with similarly collected fingerprints at U.S. ports-of-entry. This will verify identity to reduce use of stolen and counterfeit visas, and protect against possible use by terrorists or others who might represent a security risk to the United States. These two important programs (collecting fingerprints for visa issuance and verifying travelers’ fingerprints when they enter the United States) will make travel to the United States safer for legitimate travelers, and also improve safety and national security for all Americans. This transition to ten prints will enable the Departments of State and Homeland Security to more effectively process visa applicant fingerprints.
What This Means - Traveling to the United States
- For U.S. Visas the chosen biometric identifier method is a digital photo and electronic fingerprints. All fingers of a visa applicant are electronically scanned in a quick, inkless process during the consular officer's interview with the applicant.
Travel without a Visa - Visa Waiver Program - Each traveler holding a valid passport from any of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries, regardless of age or passport used, must present an individual machine-readable passport (MRP) in order to enter the United States without a visa. Depending on the date the traveler's passport was issued, other passport requirements apply. If a prospective traveler does not meet requirements to travel without a visa, he/she will need to apply for a U.S. visa, and cannot travel on VWP. See Visa Waiver Program for complete details. Additionally, all VWP travelers are required to have an approved Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before traveling to the United States.
- Admission into the United States - Select travel procedures and biometrics to learn more about the Department of Homeland Security’s program at U.S. ports-of-entry, which verifies the identity of the traveler using the electronic fingerprint data and digital photographs.
Applicant Refusal to be Fingerprinted at Visa Interview
A visa applicant who refuses to be fingerprinted would have his or her visa application denied on the basis that it is incomplete. However, an applicant who then later decided to provide fingerprints would have his or her visa application re-considered without prejudice.
About the Information Collected
The electronic data from the ten fingerprints is stored in a database and is made available at U.S. ports-of-entry to Department of Homeland Security immigration inspectors. The electronic fingerprint data is associated with an issued visa for verification and the privacy of the data is protected by storage in the database.
The U.S. Department of State makes data available in accordance with the law governing the use of visa records, to U.S. law enforcement agencies that require the information for law enforcement purposes. Visa records are, by law, confidential. Requests for access to visa records by law enforcement are subject to statutory, regulatory and other legal restrictions.