International students coming back into the United States after winter break faced a new addition to airport security this year.
The U.S.-VISIT, a program implemented by the Department of Homeland Security on Jan. 5, photographs and digitally fingerprints foreigners entering the United States. The data collected is run through criminal and terrorist databases.
“Digital finger scans are checked against a database of known and suspected terrorists,” Homeland Security spokeswoman Kimberly Weissman said. “If everything is fine, the person is admitted.”
The entire process is electronic, with computers scanning and reading digital fingerprints with technology that, according to Homeland Security, was installed in 115 American airports and 14 seaports at the beginning of the month.
AU students said the new security measures did not take much longer than the previous routine for going through customs.
“It takes a while ... like a minute longer than before,” said student Takeo Nishii, who is from Japan. “As long as I’m following it, it doesn’t really matter to me.”
Student Patricia Rueda, who is from Spain, said the whole process was fast and easy to understand.
“The goals of this program are to increase security but still allow people here for a legitimate reason to come here with minimal wait time,” Weissman said. “The average wait time per person is 15 seconds.”
Fanta Aw, director of International Student Services, estimated that 800 AU students have families overseas and very few had problems with the new process.
“The students I spoke to were surprised at how fast the process was,” Aw said. “Some students have said given what happened on Sept. 11, ‘we understand,’ while others say this reinforces the perception that the U.S. is not a welcoming place. There are two schools of thought.”