In an effort to bolster national security, the government will
soon require every visa-holding passenger to undergo electronic
identification upon entering and exiting the country.

Mira Levitan
Under a new government identification process beginning next year, visa passengers will be fingerprinted at additional security checkpoints. The process will take 60 to 90 seconds. (PHOTO Illustration by TREVOR CAMPBELL/Daily)

Beginning early next year, the U.S. Department of Homeland
Security will photograph and fingerprint foreign visitors traveling
to U.S. airports or seaports at additional security checkpoints set
up throughout the airport. Formally dubbed US Visitor and Immigrant
Status Indicator Technology, the process will “enhance the
security of our citizens and visitors,” according to a
statement released by the department last Tuesday.

The printing process, which the DHS describes as
“inkless,” occurs simultaneously with the snapshot and
takes 60 to 90 seconds. Travelers exiting the country must also
enter their fingerprints at airport “kiosks.”

Recent federal transportation policies — such as the
National Security Entry Exit Registration System — have
monitored travelers from only a couple dozen countries. But
US-VISIT will monitor every passenger with a travel visa —
about 24 million persons annually, according to U.S. Citizenship
and Immigration Services.

Certain border checks will remain unchanged. For example,
foreign passengers will still have to answer a series of questions
posed by transportation officials concerning the nature of their
travel. As before, passengers from only 27 nations, including the
United Kingdom and Japan, are exempt from traveling under visa
restrictions within the first 90 days of arriving in the United
States.

By early 2004, the department hopes to have the system at 115
airports and 14 seaports nationwide. But test runs have started
running in the last few weeks.

“I saw a demonstration of (US-VISIT) and it actually
worked better than I expected it to,” DHS spokeswoman
Danielle Sheahan said. She added that a pilot program will take
place later this month at Atlanta Hartsfield International
Airport.

Although the new processes require foreign travelers to wait in
an extra line, Sheahan said she believes travelers will not feel
hampered.

“The process adds a few seconds onto every
inspection,” she said.

Unlike safety measures of the past, US-VISIT gives
transportation inspectors access to all traveler databases. Using
this feature, officials can more easily detect persons trying to
gain unauthorized entry into the country, Sheahan said.

“It certainly is going to put the inspector on the
line,” she said. “The biggest benefit in my opinion is
that the inspector will have access to databases.”

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the government has strived to step up
security measures at airports and increase restrictions on foreign
travelers to the United States. President Bush created the
Transportation Security Administration in November, 2001, to ensure
the security of passengers, while the 2002 Enhanced Border Security
and Visa Reform Act tightened constraints on aliens.

Overall, the stringency of the policies has cast a shade of
unrest among international students at the University, said Louise
Baldwin, assistant director of the University of Michigan
International Center.

The polices “caused more anxiety among students,”
she said.

Tighter immigration policies also coincide with a slight
decrease in new international students enrolled at the University
from last year, according to the Office of the Registrar.
Unofficial figures released to Baldwin by the Office of the
Registrar show that whereas 1,392 new foreign students enrolled at
the University in 2002, 1,332 new students enrolled this fall.

But Jain said most travel policies have not deterred many
foreign students from attending the University.

“Right now I don’t see (most policies) as a
hindrance for international students to come into the
country,” Jain said. “The only way it makes a
difference is when you’re in line at the airport.”

Jain added that international students will be critical of
broad-sweeping measures — such as US-VISIT — that place
every traveler under scrutiny.

“There are thousands of students coming here and if you
start fingerprinting everyone, time will go up and it will just
become a hassle for students,” Jain said, adding that the
process “might be offensive” to some.

While she said she could not tell whether US-VISIT will
inconvenience international students at the University, Baldwin
said, “Anytime you make getting into the U.S. more difficult
and you have to go through more procedures, it’s certainly
discouraging to people.”

Aside from international students flying in and out of Detroit
Metropolitan Airport, US-VISIT may not impact many travelers in
southeast Michigan — only 8.3 percent of passengers at the
airport travel internationally, according to numbers provided by
the Wayne County Airport Authority.

“In terms of creating an inconvenience at the airport, I
don’t think (US-VISIT) will,” airport authority
spokesman Michael Conway said. “For the majority of our
passengers, it will be invisible for them.”

Federal officials have already evaluated Detroit Metro for
US-VISIT systems, Conway said.

 

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