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Safety & Security of U.S. Borders: Biometrics

Overview

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.

Legal Requirements

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 identity and 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 biometrics is important for U.S. national security.  Fingerprints of a visa holder are compared with similarly collected fingerprints at all U.S. ports of entry.  The use of fingerprints has many benefits.  We reduce the use of stolen and counterfeit visas.  We protect against entry by terrorists and others who pose a security risk.  Collecting fingerprints for a visa and verifying fingerprints at a port of entry make travel to the United States safer for legitimate travelers.  Those procedures also improve safety for all Americans.

What This Means - Traveling to the United States

  • Our visas use a digital photo and electronic fingerprints.  All fingers of a visa applicant are electronically scanned in a quick, inkless process during the visa interview.
  • Travel without a Visa - Visa Waiver Program (VWP) - A traveler holding a valid passport from a VWP country must present an individual machine-readable passport (MRP) in order to enter the United States without a visa.  Depending on the date the passport was issued, other passport requirements apply.  If a prospective traveler does not meet requirements to travel without a visa, s/he will need to apply for a U.S. visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. See Visa Waiver Program and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) website 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.

Refusal to be Fingerprinted

A visa applicant who refuses to be fingerprinted will not be issued a visa.  The visa application would be incomplete.  However, an applicant who later decides to provide fingerprints would have her/his 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 fingerprint data is associated with an issued visa for verification and privacy of the data is protected by storage in the database.

The U.S. Department of State makes data available to U.S. law enforcement agencies that require it for law enforcement purposes.  This is done in accordance with the law governing the use of visa records.  By law, visa records are confidential.  A request for access to a visa record by a law enforcement agency is subject to statutory, regulatory, and other legal restrictions.