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Biometric Enrollment Press Briefing

I would like to welcome all of you to the American Institute in Taiwan's Consular Section. My name is Charles Bennett, and I am the chief of the Consular Section. The purpose of today's briefing is to explain new fingerprinting procedures that will be implemented next week. I will spend a few minutes explaining the background of the new procedures and answer your questions. We will then demonstrate the new process to you.

The U.S. continues to welcome visitors, students and business people to the United States. However, we also realize that we must always look to make travel documents as secure as possible to ensure the safety of the U.S. and visitors to the U.S. Visa policies are designed to maximize the security of the United States while encouraging legitimate visitors to travel to the United States.

U.S. law (Section 303 of the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 - "The Border Security Act") requires that all U.S. visa issuing offices, including AIT, collect biometric identifiers from all visa applicants. What do we mean by "biometric identifiers"? We mean two things - a photo and an electronic fingerprint. People applying for a visa have been required to provide photos for many years. In addition, as of October 26, any foreign national applying for a U.S. visa, who is between the ages of 14 and 80, will be required to have fingerprints taken as part of the visa application process.

These procedures are part of the U.S. government's ongoing efforts to improve and strengthen our border security programs to better protect both U.S. residents and U.S. visitors.

At AIT, these new procedures will go into effect September 13, 2004, for immigrant visa applicants and September 15, 2004, for non-immigrant visa applicants.

AIT is one of the last U.S. visa-issuing offices in the world to implement these procedures. The U.S. began electronic fingerprinting visa applicants in September 2003 at the U.S. Embassies in Brussels, Guatemala City and San Salvador and the U.S. Consulate General in Frankfurt.

The requirement for all visa applicants to have an electronic fingerprint will complement the US-VISIT program, which currently requires that all visa holders have a digital photo taken when they enter the United States. Fingerprints collected during the visa application process can thus be compared to fingerprints collected at the port of entry, to ensure that the person to whom a visa was issued is the same person who is seeking entry into the U.S.

Currently, there is a pilot program at several U.S. ports of entry to also scan fingerprints and take digital photos of visitors who are departing the United States. Eventually, this program will be expanded to include all U.S. ports of entry.

At AIT, all other visa application procedures, including fees, will remain the same as before.

Many people are also concerned about the confidentiality of our visa records, including fingerprint records. Visa records are, by law, confidential. Requests for access to visa records by U.S. law enforcement agencies are controlled by statutory, regulatory and other legal restrictions. Only authorized officials will have access to this information and only for official business on a need-to-know basis.

There are procedures in place to handle cases where an applicant may not be able to provide fingerprints (for example, if they are missing fingers or their fingerprints cannot be read properly). AIT can also waive the fingerprint requirement for urgent cases involving medical emergencies.

Additionally, Taiwan officials assigned to TECRO offices in the United States are exempt from fingerprinting, as are certain senior Taiwan officials traveling to the United States.

The fingerprinting process is simple, quick and clean. When visa applicants come into our office they will be asked to place their left and right index finger on a small fingerprint reader. The consular official will see the fingerprint on his or her computer screen, and determine if the image is suitable. This process normally takes 20 to 30 seconds.

After the fingerprint is taken, the information is sent electronically to the United States and compared against a central database. Once a response is received from the central database, normally in 5 to 10 minutes, we can continue to process the visa.

The U.S. visa you receive in your passport will look the same as before.

The applicant's fingerprints will not appear on the visa itself. However, the fingerprints remain a part of the electronic visa application record. U.S. immigration officials at ports of entry will have access to these electronic records.