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DHS making progress in developing biometric exit system despite challenges


U.S. Government Accountability Office has released a report reviewing the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) progress in developing a biometric exit capability at the country’s air borders — its first report assessing the planning of the capability since 2013.

In compiling the report, GAO reviewed statutes and DHS documents as well as interviewed DHS officials about biometric exit capability development and overstays reporting.

The agency also reviewed four biometric entry and exit pilot programs and analyzed overstay data for the 2013 to 2015 period.

Since GAO’s previous 2013 report, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has conducted four pilot programs to inform the development and implementation of a biometric exit system.

Despite making progress in testing biometric exit capabilities, the agency continues to face several longstanding planning, infrastructure, and staffing challenges which are impacting its ability to develop and implement a biometric exit system.

CBP is working towards the goal of initially implementing a biometric exit capability in at least one airport by 2018.

As a result, the agency is collaborating with airlines and airports on strategies for using public/private partnerships to lower costs and provide the industry with greater control over how a biometric exit capability is implemented at airport gates.

However, the agency will not be able to complete the planning of the capability until these partnership agreements and implementation decisions are finalized.

GAO has cited infrastructure limitations as being a significant challenge to implementing a biometric air exit capability, such as U.S. airports not having any outbound designated secure areas for exiting travelers where U.S. immigration officers could capture their biometric information.

CBP said it will use the information extracted from the pilot programs to determine which biometric exit technology and staffing processes that are effective in the airport environment.

Since the agency is still in the finalization stages of its approach, it is too early to assess its plans for developing and implementing a biometric exit capability as well as determine how those plans will address the previously mentioned challenges.

Overall, GAO did not make any new recommendations for CBP in developing the biometric air exit capability.

Meanwhile, DHS state in the report’s comments that it is currently using a biometric verification system to confirm the departure of selected travelers at one airport and plans to soon release its 2016 overstays report.

This report will include reliable overstay rates on foreign students arriving through air and sea POEs, DHS officials said.

In addition, the department said it expects to start reporting overstay rates for foreign visitors who entered the country through land POEs in the report for fiscal year 2017.

DHS said it has “improved overstays reporting by, among other things, enhancing the systems it uses to process entry and exit biographic data for potential overstays and is exploring options to collect information from land POEs.”

Last month, several experts raised concerns that President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugees, which proposes that all non-citizens be subjected to biometric checks when entering or leaving the United States, could lead to widespread logistical issues.

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