E.g., 10/04/2023
E.g., 10/04/2023
Real Challenges for Virtual Borders: The Implementation of US-VISIT
June 2005

Real Challenges for Virtual Borders: The Implementation of US-VISIT

This report evaluates the United States Visitor and immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program—a nascent automated entry-exit tracking system that collects biographical and biometric data from foreign nationals—within the broader contexts of national and homeland security as well as immigration law enforcement and policymaking. In doing so, the author seeks to provide constructive criticism along with a framework for rethinking US-VISIT’s goal priorities, investment needs, and deadline expectations.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, the US-VISIT system has a twofold mission of enforcing immigration laws and countering terrorism. The author finds, however, that there are serious limitations as to what the program can accomplish with respect to each of these missions. Although the automated entry-exit system is able to identify individual visa overstayers, this information alone may not be particularly useful for apprehending violators or enforcing visa time limitations. On the counterterrorism front, US-VISIT may present an additional obstacle for some foreign terrorists, but is unlikely to catch terrorists trying to enter the United States. 

Based on these inherent limitations, the author questions the ambitiousness of the goals set out for US-VISIT. While the deployment of new screening systems could enhance citizens’ sense of security, actually securing the border will likely require further investments in border infrastructure, data acquisition, and human resources. The author concludes by encouraging lawmakers to consider whether US-VISIT’s potential benefits justify necessary investments, and whether a more prudent course of action may be to scale back the program’s requirements and expectations.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. Border control after September 11, 2001

III. US-VISIT and how it works

A. The development of US-VISIT

B. Implementation increments, systems, and processes

C. Related programs and systems

IV. Challenges

A. Multiple missions

B. Entry process

C. Exit process

D. Radio frequency-enabled exit controls

E. Incomplete data, data interoperability, and data availability

F. RF technology and Visa Waiver Program country passports

G. A world of digitized biometrics

V. Recommendations

A. Reconsider policy and/or revise implementation expectations

B. Use technology appropriate to the task

C. Hire more inspectors

D. Use port modeling and simulation to better phase in system deployment

E. Explore alternative inspection options

F. Initiate national debate on fingerprints in U.S. passports

G. Ensure database security

VI. Conclusion