Friday, January 9, 2009

A rare peek at Homeland Security's files on travelers

I just came across an interesting article by a travel writer who did a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request for his travel documents. The article explains what he found - a lot more than you might expect. In addition, the author links to his experiences with secondary inspection on returning to the US ( and the comments to the original article also show plenty of experiences. I've had many clients in 12 years of immigration practice that are repeatedly stopped on returning to the US. It is next to impossible to get their names cleared, despite DHS claiming to have a procedure to resolve grievances.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Fingerprinting for re-entry permits

It is common, and recommended, for US permanent residents to file for re-entry permits if they will be spending long periods of time outside the US. In 2008, USCIS introduced a new requirement that applicants for re-entry permits needed to be fingerprinted before the permit would be issued. The biometric regulations were unclear as to whether an application would be abandoned if the foreign national left the US before having biometrics taken. The American Immigration Lawyers Association now believes that foreign nationals can leave the US and return for biometrics.

Biometric appointments are normally scheduled within about 30 days of CIS getting the I-131 (the application form for re-entry permits). However, foreign nationals often need to travel outside the US, usually to assume or resume the foreign position, sooner than 30 days after filing. In that case, the applicant can request expedited scheduling of the biometric appointment.

If the applicant gets an appointment and must leave before that date, she can try to walk into an Application Support Center (ASC, the office that takes biometrics) with proof of the imminent departure, and see if the ASC will take the biometrics. If the ASC refuses this request, or if the applicant does not get the appointment until after she has already left the US, she can reschedule. She can request a specific date, but CIS cannot schedule appointments more than 30 days in advance.

It is very important to attend the biometrics appointment, or request a reschedule to avoid the application being denied due to abandonment. The foreign national could reapply, but this is expensive and cumbersome.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Permanent residents (green card holders) now need to provide biometrics on entering US

On December 19, 2008 the DHS published a final rule expanding significantly the population of aliens subject to the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology Program (US-VISIT) to include permanent residents. It becomes effective January 18, 2009.

US-VISIT will apply to all permanent residents entering or exiting from an air or seaport. Permanent residents entering through land ports of entry, however, will be required to provide fingerprints only if they are referred to secondary inspection. Not all land ports of entry currently have ten-print capability; installation at all ports is expected to be complete within the next month.

NB: The American Immigration Lawyers Association reminds permanent residents with criminal convictions that they are likely to be detected on returning to the US, and they should be prepared to present evidence regarding their admissibility.

The US-VISIT program was established in 2003 to verify the identity and travel documents of visitors. US-VISIT automates this verification by comparing biometric identifiers with information drawn from intelligence and law enforcement watch lists and databases. In many cases, this process begins overseas at a U.S. visa issuing post, where a traveler's biometrics—digital fingerprints and a photograph—are collected and checked against a watch list of known criminals and suspected terrorists. When the traveler arrives in the United States, border officials collect the same biometrics to verify that the person at the port is the same person who received the visa.

For more information on the US_VISIT program, please click on the headline above.