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State Dep’t Explains Biometric Visa Program’s Fingerscan, Photo Requirements


The Department of State has published a notice in the Federal Register that explains when fingerscans and other biometric identifiers are required, and notes exceptions to the general requirements.

The notice (PDF) explains that the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 has required, since October 26, 2004, that all visas issued by the Department of State (DOS) must be machine-readable and tamper-resistant and use biometric identifiers. DOS determined, in consultation with the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Justice (DOJ), that fingerprints and a photo image should be required as biometric identifiers. When the biometric visa program began, available technology allowed for the efficient capture and comparisons of only two fingerscans. As a result of technological improvements, DOS instituted a 10-fingerscan standard.

DOS’s Biometric Visa Program is a partner program to DHS’s US-VISIT program in effect at U.S. ports of entry that uses the same biometric identifiers. The DOS notice explains that fingerscans and photos of visa applicants are sent to DHS databases. When a person to whom a visa has been issued arrives at a port of entry, his or her photo is retrieved from a database and projected on the computer screen of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer, who compares the person’s fingerscans to the fingerscans in the database.

Certain exemptions to the fingerscans under the Biometric Visa Program have been coordinated with DHS to coincide with the exemptions to fingerscans under US-VISIT. Under the Biometric Visa Program, applicants for diplomatic or official visas, for visas to represent their governments at recognized international organizations such as the United Nations or for visas to serve as employees of such organizations, for NATO visas, or for government officials on official transit through the U.S. are exempt from the fingerscans. The aforementioned are represented by these visa categories: A-1, A-2, G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1, NATO-2, NATO-3, NATO-4, NATO-5, NATO-6 and C-3 (except for attendants, servants, or personal employees of accredited officials).

In addition, the notice states, persons under age 14 and persons age 80 or above are generally exempt from the fingerscans, unless the person is applying for a visa at a consular post in Mexico and in Yemen. In Mexico, fingerscans are required for applicants beginning at age 7 and above under the program for issuance of biometric Border Crossing Cards (commonly known as “laser visas”), which began in 1998. DOS recently expanded that policy to include visa applicants in Yemen, and may further expand it to include additional countries in the future. DOS retains the authority to require fingerscans of children under age 14 or adults age 80 or above in all other countries.

All visa applicants must submit a photograph with the visa application, the notice explains, except at consular posts in Mexico where most nonimmigrant visa applicants have a live-capture photo taken at the post. All persons, regardless of whether they submit fingerscans, are reviewed against the Department’s facial recognition database.

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Ivener & Fullmer LLP, a nationally recognized law firm, has successfully assisted hundreds of clients in immigration matters.

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