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US Says Moves to Tighten Visa Security Successful - 2004-08-17


U.S. officials say a program launched earlier this year to tighten visa security for foreigners entering the United States is working well and has not proven to be a major burden to legal visitors. A new group of travelers to the United States will soon be required to enroll in the program.

Since January of this year U.S. immigration officials have processed six million travelers at 115 airports and 14 seaports under what is known as the U.S. VISIT program that requires foreigners with visas to use biometric technology to verify their identities.

The U.S. government has approved digital fingerprints and photographs as the biometrics for identifying travelers and verifying documents such as visas and passports.

The new measures are the result of tighter security following the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Before this technology was used, only biographical data such as a visitor's name was available to be checked against watch lists of suspected terrorists, criminals and others who would be barred from entering the country.

Using biometric identifiers makes it more difficult for suspects to hide their true identities and enter the United States illegally.

U.S. officials say these identifiers also protect legitimate visitors since if their travel documents are lost or stolen it is virtually impossible for anyone else to use them.

The Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs, Janice Jacobs, says the program is designed to make sure travel to the United States by legitimate visitors is not interrupted.

"Our overarching goal is to have a secure, predictable and prompt border security process," she said. "This is what we work toward every single day when we are processing visas overseas or when inspectors are admitting people into the United States at our ports of entry. It is something we work very closely with everyday with the Department of Homeland Security. We have established a very strong partnership and I think that the system that we have setup after September 11th, 2001 is working very well."

Beginning September 30 of this year, travelers from the so-called visa waiver countries will also be required to have their index fingers scanned and pictures taken at points of entry into the United States.

More than 13 million visitors from these countries are allowed to enter each year for up to 90 days for business or pleasure using only a passport.

The 27 countries in the program include many European nations as well as Japan and Singapore.