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New US system to track visitors by 2004

Seema Hakhu Kachru in Houston | July 21, 2003 11:48 IST

The United States expects to put in place a new system - the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US VISIT) - to identify and track immigrants and non-immigrants who come to work, visit or live in the country, in January 2004.

According to the US Department of Homeland Security, the technology uses biometrically authenticated documents.

All visitors entering the US with a valid visa through airports and sea ports will be finger printed, photographed and customs officials will scan their travel documents.

The Department of Homeland Security, which is implementing the system, says it will provide a better chance of identifying future terrorists.

The department notes that out of the 19 hijackers who took part in the September 11 terrorist attacks, six used false names on their Saudi Arabian passports, three had overstayed their visas, two entered the US as students yet never reported to their schools, and two were on the FBI's wanted terrorists' list.

American citizens and others, such as green card holders, who are not required to have visas, will not be subjected to this system.

All new foreign visitors will be asked for any immigrant or citizenship status, their nationality, country of residence, and what their US address will be while they are in the country.

All new visitors will also have their background checked for any terrorist group connections.

The US VISIT will replace the current reporting requirement programme for males aged 16 to 45 from specific countries which have been classified as linked to terrorism.

The US VISIT System is a critical new border security and enforcement tool that will capture the point of entry and exit information on visitors.

It will replace the existing National Security Entry Exit Registration System (NSEERS) programme, combine elements of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) programme and encompass Congressional requirements.

(The SEVIS is designed to let university officials electronically update the government on changes in the status of their international students.)

The US VISIT system will be in its first phase of operation at international air and sea ports of entry by the end of 2003.

It will be later upgraded with newer features like eye and facial scans, using biometric technology to further increase security.

The system also hopes to catch more than two million people, who, as per the records of the Immigration Service Department, have overstayed their authorised visit.

The system will affect 60 per cent of the tourists, approximately 23 million people, who come into the US with visas.


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