US visa delays: It’ll all be over soon

US visa processing back to normal after computer glitch (Dawn)

US visa processing has returned to full strength after hardware problems, the State Department said on Monday, noting that 410,000 visas were issued in a week as officials scrambled to clear a huge backlog.

According to the article, 410,000 visas have been issued in the last week. Compared to the average of 50,000 daily visa requests (350,000 per week), that would clear about 60,000 applications in the backlog if June is an average month for visa applications.

US: Making progress on visa issuance problems

US begins to fix visa problems, big backlog to clear (India Today)

“The database responsible for handling biometric clearances has been rebuilt and is being tested,” Kirby said, adding that 33 U.S. embassies and consulates, representing 66 percent of normal capacity, are now online and issuing visas.

The exact nature of the problems that caused the US visa system to ground to a halt hasn’t been made clear to the public. In articles informing this post and the previous one, “hardware” and “database” have been the only technical specifics mentioned. It’s hard to say what went wrong without knowing exactly how the State Department’s system was built, but it looks like things are returning to normal.

More progress will help clear the backlog of visa applications.

US: Visa systems issues related to hardware failure

Hardware glitch in Washington freezes US visa issuance worldwide (Times of India)

The State Department said the June 9 failure was preventing it from processing and transmitting the mandatory security-related biometric data checks routinely carried out at embassies and consulates worldwide, and it could take up to a week to fix it.

This Wednesday release from the State Department doesn’t contain much detail that isn’t included in the Times of India article linked above.

Canada announces biometric requirement for visa holders

Biometric data collection evolves and expands in Canada (CBC)

Citizenship and Immigration Canada told CBC News that digital photos and fingerprints are “the only biometrics data applicants will have to provide” under the government’s plan for expanded collection of data. Visitors will have to pay $85 to cover the cost of data collection.

Travelers who don’t need a visa to travel to Canada are, apparently, unaffected.

Security and Service

Concerns raised over mandatory fingerprinting for India visas (Travel Weekly)

The High Commission of India states on its website that, after outsourcing the process to a company called VFS, all applicants will need to be physically present at India Visa and Consular Services centres to submit an application and biometric data.

It says: “Biometric data collection, including fingerprint data and facial imagery will be a mandatory requirement for all visa applicants soon. As a result, all visa applicants will need to first apply online and, thereafter, be physically present (mandatorily) at India Visa and Consular Services centres, by appointment, for submission of visa application and biometric data enrolment.”

All security applications must strike a balance between the effectiveness of the security measures and the needs of the entity seeking enhanced security. As anyone who has ever seen a waste basket propping open an office door could tell you, better security usually requires sacrifices to efficiency. More security with more convenience is a tall order.

The article linked above highlights a case where the enhanced security of biometric visas for travelers to India from the UK has made the visa application process more complex and time consuming. In one sense, it’s bound to. Collecting more information takes more time. In the India visa case, however, it is taking a whole lot more time. So much more that people involved in Indian tourism are growing worried.

The unfortunate irony is that their ability to increase security and convenience at the same time is one of the things that make biometrics such a disruptive technology.

Better late than never

US customs allocated funding to test biometric exit app (Security Document World)

A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations bill released on 9 January allocates US$3 million in funding for testing of a biometric exit app that would be used by Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The funding will be used for a biometric exit mobile application demonstration at two airports, according to an explanatory note added to the bill.

The idea of implementing an exit system at all US ports of entry was first touted in 1996 as part of the “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act”.

New Saudi biometric visa policies meet some resistance

PAKISTAN: Travel agents protest implementation of biometric system for Saudi visa applicants (Express Tribune)

“We have written to Etimad three times to come and discuss with us the system but they are not contacting us,” said Khalil, adding that if the system continues in the same manner, then the number of pilgrims from Pakistan would be reduced by half.

Pakistan already uses biometrics pretty extensively in elections and travel documents, so this seems to be more about implementation than biometric acceptance.

Biometric visitor exit monitoring back in the news

SIA forms ‘Airport Entry and Exit Working Group’ with SIBA (Security Info Watch)

The Security Industry Association (SIA) and Secure Identity & Biometrics Association (SIBA) on Tuesday announced the formation of the Airport Entry and Exit Working Group and release of its Identity and Biometric Entry and Exit Solutions Framework for Airports.

A biometric entry and exit monitoring system has been required under U.S. law for a long time now. Maybe the time is right to give it a real try.

UAE to open biometric visa enrollment center in Sri Lanka

UAE opens its first visa issuing centre outside the country in… (Emirates 247)

The new visa centre serves 500 customers every day and uses passport authentication and biometrics such as fingerprints, eyeprints and faceprints, and medical tests conducted at 15 Sri Lankan centres accredited by U.A.E. Ministry of Health, in order to identity, and prevent entry of individuals with contagious disease.

The procedures will save costs of recruitment, quarantine and deportation and improve customer service as they are aimed at providing excellent consular services fulfilling internationally recognised standards.

New Canadian biometrics requirement for certain visa types begins next Wednesday

Canada introduces new biometric visa requirements (Dhaka Tribune)

When a traveller arrives in Canada at a port of entry, a Canadian border services officer will use all available sources of information to confirm that person’s identity.

This new requirement will not only help protect the safety and security of Canadians while helping facilitate legitimate travel, it will also protect prospective visitors by making it more difficult for others to forge, steal or use an applicant’s identity to gain access to Canada, it said.

This is what a legacy system looks like

Moral turpitude, severe violations of the religious freedom of others, intent to become a prostitute, not if you want a USA visa, you don’t.

Why are US visa questions so weird? (Financial Times – Registration Required to read the linked article)

The reason US visa forms seem such an odd accretion of questions is that is what they are. They have been added to over the decades to confront whatever danger the US was dealing with at the time.

Are the visa forms an effective way of keeping undesirables out of the US? “If we’re interested in keeping people who mean to do us harm out, it’s not very effective,” Mr Chishti says. Biometric screening, databases and finger printing are far more useful, he says.

United States: Entry-exit system back in the news

Biometric ID viable at U.S. entry points: report (Washington Times)

Federal law has long called for all visitors to the U.S. to submit to biometric identification both coming and going, but the government has never lived up to that promise — and senators in their immigration bill this year even announced a retreat, weakening the law, saying the requirement is too expensive.

But a report released Tuesday by the Center for Immigration Studies says biometric identification can be implemented easily and at a fraction of the cost estimated by government officials.

See also: Who’s in my country? That’s a tough one.

US: Biometrics visitor exit tracking

Long-planned visa exit system inches forward (FCW)

The Department of Homeland Security will soon put the finishing touches on a plan for a biometric identification system intended to help track visa overstays.

Jim Crumpacker, director of DHS’ Departmental GAO-IG Liaison Office, told the Government Accountability Office that Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Field Operations and DHS’ Science and Technology Directorate will come up with goals aimed at creating and implementing a biometric air exit identification system for use at U.S. airports by Jan. 31, 2014.

US: Entry/exit dominating today’s biometrics news

An amendment to the immigration bill being discussed in the Senate Judiciary Committee has been all over the news this morning.

See:
Senators propose fingerprinting at airport security (Click Orlando), and
US senators approve immigration changes requiring fingerprint system at 30 airports (Truth Dive)

This Reuters piece is more detailed:
US panel votes to speed up airport fingerprinting of immigrants (Reuters)

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-5 for an amendment to a wide-ranging immigration bill that would require the installation of devices to check immigrants’ fingerprints at the 10 busiest U.S. airports within two years of enactment of the legislation.

Checks currently are made at airports for foreigners arriving and re-entering the country but not when they leave. “It’s just a matter of having records we can keep so we know where we’re going,” Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah told reporters of his successful amendment.

The committee’s work commands worldwide attention because it’s personal to many people because of their own travel habits, aspirations for immigration or education, or the living situation of friends or loved-ones.

It is also of worldwide importance because the United States will have a large role to play in any eventual interoperable international system accounting for international travel.

The amendment adopted by the committee would, in the event of the bill’s passage, institute a fingerprint-based entry/exit system starting with the ten busiest U.S. airports over two years.

The best framing I have read of the lack of-, case for-, and challenges associated with a decent entry/exit system is David Grant’s Immigration reform: What to do about those who arrive legally but never leave?

And in March, we wrote:

[… R]elevant to integrating the entry and exit points is the percentage of international travelers who enter a country through one international travel node and depart the country from another.

The more nodes, the more travelers, the more complex the travel patterns of international visitors, all of these things place additional pressures on any sort of entry/exit system and these complexities don’t necessarily increase as a linear function.

Of course all of this has bearing on the United States which has every challenge there is. It’s not surprising that, biometrics or no biometrics, the US lacks a comprehensive integrated entry/exit system. A couple of good pilot projects might go a long way towards getting an idea of the exact scope of some of the challenges, though. [emph. added]

With that in mind, does the committee’s amendment fit in with the idea of a “good pilot” project? I think so. Despite reluctance to call anything happening in the ten busiest airports in the country a “pilot project,” so as not to trivialize the challenges involved, the scope of a truly comprehensive entry/exit system accounting for all air, sea and land transport is so vast that it does make “pilot project” seem appropriate here.

But in order for this avenue to a pilot actually to lead there, even in two years, the whole immigration bill currently being fashioned in the Judiciary Committee must pass the full U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Even if the broader immigration overhaul fails to attract majority legislative support, the 13-5 committee vote may bode well for the pilot on a stand-alone basis. You have to start somewhere.

UK: Immigration politics and biometrics

The United States isn’t the only place where immigration politics — and the role of biometrics — are coming to the fore. They’re very timely issues in the UK, as well.

WorkPermit.com covers Prime Minister David Cameron’s policy prescriptions like the dew covers Dixie, here: Cameron announces tough reforms to UK immigration.

The Guardian provides some analysis here: Immigrants’ residents permits: how would they work?

The repeated refusal of GPs, social housing officers and social security staff to act as immigration officers also means that if more robust residence tests are to be introduced for other EU nationals then an easy and authoritative way is needed of checking how long they have been in the country and what their immigration status is.

Ministers have confirmed that they are looking at plans to take fingerprints and other biometric data to be stored on a card with a photograph and electronic signature from new arrivals from next year.

It is within this context that the beleaguered UK Border Agency is being broken up (BBC). The UKBA is currently responsible for border protection, visa & passport issuance, asylum cases, immigration law enforcement, etc.

Who’s in my country? That’s a tough one.

Philippines will deploy biometrics for documenting the arrival and departure of international travellers (FutureGov Asia)

BI Commissioner Ricardo David Jr said the programme will enhance the country’s border security and boost the agency’s capability to thwart the entry of foreign terrorists and other illegal aliens.

The new scheme involves the use of an ink-less device and digital camera in capturing the fingerprints and photographs of the foreign visitors.

Doing something like this is easier for some countries than others. The Philippines has some advantages and challenges. Advantages include the lack of land borders with other countries. Since it’s an archipelago, they can be pretty sure that no one is walking or driving there, so except for clandestine boat or plane landings, covering the sea- and airports takes care of it. But there are a surprising (to me) number of those, so the integration challenges are real.

Also relevant to integrating the entry and exit points is the percentage of international travelers who enter a country through one international travel node and depart the country from another.

The more nodes, the more travelers, the more complex the travel patterns of international visitors, all of these things place additional pressures on any sort of entry/exit system and these complexities don’t necessarily increase as a linear function.

Of course all of this has bearing on the United States which has every challenge there is. It’s not surprising that, biometrics or no biometrics, the US lacks a comprehensive integrated entry/exit system. A couple of good pilot projects might go a long way towards getting an idea of the exact scope of some of the challenges, though.

USA Today Editorial duels Op-Ed on biometric exit monitoring system

Border security not just about walls: Our viewUSA Today Editorial Board

A full biometric system plus immigration agents plus court personnel would cost tens of billions that the government doesn’t have. But if this year’s immigration reform is to prove more effective and durable than those of the past, this would be a good time to face up to the costs.

We can identify those who overstay on visasDavid Heyman, assistant secretary for policy at the Homeland Security Department

Ultimately, biometric exit is not the only exit system that exists. Rather than wait for a time when there is enough funding or capability, we have built and are improving a system that is effective today.

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