U.S. May Require All Foreign Visitors To Submit Biometrics Before Applying For An ESTA Or Visa

According to the Wall Street Journal, as part of “President Trump’s promise in 2016 to crack down on foreign visitors,” the federal government is looking to require foreign visitors and prospective immigrants to submit “fingerprints and possibly other biometric information..into a new database” prior to being permitted to submit online visa applications.

  • The Department of Homeland Security is already purchasing machines to do fingerprinting at consulates around the world which “collect more detailed” data than current devices.

  • The plan would apply not just to those seeking visas but also eventually to the 40 countries where Visas aren’t required to come to the U.S. including Canada and all ESTA countries in Europe.

Copyright: andreyuu / 123RF Stock Photo

Proponents suggest that requiring earlier submission of biometrics lets the government start background checks earlier, though this is done with incomplete information and wouldn’t give them much of a head start if someone applied right after submission. It might also reduce the effectiveness of these checks – you want detailed application information along with biometrics so separating the two may be worse for security if the application doesn’t get submitted.

If you’re not concerned with the inconveniences and affronts imposed on foreign visitors, or that making visiting the U.S. more cumbersome means fewer people will do it (which is bad for the economy and for the U.S.’s place in the world at a time when it needs international prestige to counter China) then perhaps it will trouble you that the U.S. Visa Waiver Program entails reciprocal treatment for U.S. citizens – and that this may be imposed on Americans in response.

The move follows a move last month from the Department of Homeland Security to “require immigrants in the U.S. applying for green cards, citizenship or visas to submit a wider array of biometric information, including DNA samples, iris scans and voice recordings.” Anyone detained entering the U.S. can also expect their DNA to be taken (including U.S. citizens).

CBP chemist reads a DNA profile

For those of you who think this is an anachronistic move by a Trump administration that would necessarily be stopped in its track if Joe Biden is elected President, the national security state didn’t slow down its expansion after George W. Bush left office and President Obama was sworn in (with Joe Biden as his Vice President).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Nothing new! My families who came here legally 20 years ago had to do blood tests to make sure they are family members of mine and police clearance and all at the US embassy. Legal immigration is fine not illegal immigration

  2. @Jim – this is for visitors, someone making a short business trip or coming for a holiday. you’re talking about permanent immigration, and that’s different, though as i note even those requirements are in the process of changing.

  3. Well, no, facial recognition is a biometric identifier. Hence, FaceID, and why foreign governments on three continents have scanned my face, asked for partial fingerprints, etc. for trips as short as two days from CONUS. isn’t this the same blog that talked about the DXB arrivals hall using the fake aquarium tunnel to get you to move your head all around for facial recognition?

    Is this better or worse than Canadian immigration asking where my retirement accounts are held before they admit me for a six day trip?

    The rule is, and has been since I remember in the 80s, is that you don’t like what happens at immigration in a foreign airport, you have zero right to complain or object, you can choose not to go.

  4. Just another escalation of the Bush regime’s “war on tourism.” Why anyone would want to visit the US is beyond me. Sorry, American friends, I prefer to visit countries that actually want me to visit them.

  5. Well, This is why America has no friends in the world and nobody likes Americans. I would rather go to China than ever returning to this empire of evil which the US has become.
    Signed. A proud European

  6. @Joe you are correct. I have gone into several countries as a visitor where they took photos (in addition to the one in my passport) and have also had to provide a fingerprint. Nothing new. IMHO, a good idea. You can better track people and identify any staying over their allowed time (even without a visa it is typical to only allow 6 months (or less) in a country).

    As for the @YULtide and @Andre – keep up the America bashing. We are still the most popular place for visitors around the world to travel to (obviously not during a pandemic) so you can quit it it anytime as the facts don’t support your post. Also, much of Europe has similar policies (outside of people moving between EU countries which basically treats Europe as one country from a travel/trade standpoint). Finally good luck defending yourself when Russia eventually come calling. @Andre – if it wasn’t for the Americans you would be speaking German today!

  7. Thank you Gary for covering these issues (I don’t believe most, if any, other mainstream aviation blogs do).

    The more the powers that be acclimatize citizens to these intrusive measures the less opposition they will encounter when the time comes to turn the screws (first they came for the socialists). “What’s the big deal when I’ve done nothing wrong?” they say. Don’t worry, your time will come soon enough and by then the machinery of oppression will be built and I’m still waiting on an example of a government surrendering a surveillance power once acquired.

    Maybe Mars isn’t such a bad place after all…

  8. The premise of the article is false of course; I wouldn’t expect anything different from the leftist Wall Street journal. This has been the direction under the prior two administrations. DHS expanded these policies under Obama and implemented all those draconian TSA rules and the searches of electronic devices at the border.

    The finger prints and photos is something standard that is done all over the world for tourists. Iris scans basically are no different than standing for a picture. I am very concerned about dna collection. It can be used for things far beyond tracking people who overstay their visas.

    Government tends to have the wrong focus as always. They harass and abuse legitimate tourists and citizens instead of stopping illegal immigrants and false asylum seekers. They approve of many foreigner workers taking American jobs through H1B visas but citizens and legitimate tourists are hassled by TSA and customs.

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