Congress has suspended funding for a plan to collect biometric information from foreign visitors who are exiting the United States.
In an effort to ensure that foreign nationals do not overstay their visas, the Department of Homeland Security, under its US-VISIT program, now requires most non-U.S. citizens to submit digital fingerprints when entering the United States.
DHS also wants these biometrics to be collected once those same visitors leave the country.
But the department has still not worked out how to gather the departure data.
Last year, DHS mandated that airlines and cruise lines would have to gather the information.
The airlines vehemently opposed this. One reason was that it would cost them more than $3 billion. They also did not recognize DHS’ legal authority to force them to comply. That is a job for government, said David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association.
Congress is now suspending funding for the exit portion of the US-VISIT program, said Kimberly Weissman, spokeswoman at the Department of Homeland Security.
In the Fiscal Year 2009 Homeland Security appropriations bill, Congress has required US-VISIT to complete and report on at least two pilot programs before funding can be released for the collection of biometrics from foreign travelers who are exiting the country, Weissman said.
Castelveter said that one pilot program would test DHS’ ability to collect fingerprints and the other would test the ability of the airlines to do this.
Weissman said that upon completion of the pilots, Congress is expected to issue a final rule on who should gather the data. US-VISIT is working closely with DHS and Congress to determine how to proceed, she said.
“We will notify international visitors of the new biometric requirements before they go into effect,” she said.
The airlines continue to oppose DHS’ mandate, although they are not against tracking passengers’ biometric information.
“The airlines have not opposed biometric collection,” Castelveter said. “That’s purely up to the government to determine if that is a necessary mechanism for tracking who comes in and out of the country.”