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In January 2004, spurred by the events of September 11, 2001, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security inaugurated a new system for the tracking of foreign visitors at ports of entry to the United States: the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program. US-VISIT incorporates new technology, processes, and changes to immigration law across multiple federal departments and agencies. The technological aspects of US-VISIT include biometric visas, passports, and scanning equipment; linked databases; and the recording of the arrival and departure of nonimmigrant aliens. The US-VISIT information systems link several databases, including a watch list of known immigration violators and other criminals, a system for storing information on foreign students, and a database of previous visa holders. It is being implemented in four increments, with the first initiated in January 2004, and the final configuration of the system available near the end of the decade. Building on previous RAND research, this paper discusses some of the policy issues raised by the introduction and development of US-VISIT. Such issues include the program’s effect on national security, personal privacy, and trade and tourism. Informing this analysis is a comparative case study of visa requirements instituted by France in the late 1980s and early 1990s in direct response to terrorist attacks.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction and Motivation

  • Chapter Two

    US-VISIT Context and System Description

  • Chapter Three

    Case Study: Immigration Reform in France in the 1980s and 1990s

  • Chapter Four

    Policy Issues Related to US-VISIT

  • Chapter Five

    Conclusions and Recommendations for Further Inquiry

  • Appendix A

    US-VISIT Component Databases

  • Appendix B

    US-VISIT Ports of Entry

  • Appendix C

    US-VISIT Ports of Exit

  • Appendix D

    Privacy and Fair Information Practices

The research described in this report results from the RAND Corporation’s continuing program of self-initiated independent research. Support for such research is provided, in part, by donors and by the independent research development provisions of RAND’s contracts for the operation of its U.S. Department of Defense federally funded research and development centers. This research was conducted within RAND Infrastructure, Safety, and Environment (ISE), a unit of the RAND Corporation.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Occasional paper series. RAND occasional papers may include an informed perspective on a timely policy issue, a discussion of new research methodologies, essays, a paper presented at a conference, or a summary of work in progress. All RAND occasional papers undergo rigorous peer review to help ensure that they meet high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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