On Tuesday, September 1, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced plans to expand its collection of personal information from immigrants seeking U.S. visas and citizenship. DHS stated that it would soon release a formal proposal for new guidelines regarding the department authorities and methods for the expansion of biometric data collection.
Current Biometric Collection Guidance
Biometric data collection isn’t a new concept for immigration processes in the U.S. USCIS currently requires biometric data from all applicants over the age of 14 who are seeking certain immigration benefits. Currently, the biometrics data collected is limited to photographs, fingerprints, and signatures.
What May Change
The proposal would allow DHS to require not only more personal data, but also allow them to collect from more people, and for more immigration application processes. From the current basic data, the collection may expand to include retinal scans, voiceprints, and photographs for facial recognition.
With the proposed changes, DHS will look to modernize biometric data collection and authorize expanded use of the information collected beyond background checks to include identity verification, secure document production, and records management. According to DHS, the proposed regulation would improve the screening and vetting process as well as reduce the agency’s dependence on biographic information and paper documents to prove people’s identity and familial relationships.
More Information From More People: Applicants, Sponsors, and Minors to Provide Biometrics
The proposed policy would further modify the current guidelines, which limit biometric collection to just applicants who are over the age of 14. The new proposed rule would have the biometrics process include anyone who is seeking a visa or citizenship as well as their sponsors. It would also eliminate the existing age limit on biometrics and starts requiring children under the age of 14 to provide biometrics information. According to DHS, this will help establish the genetic relationship between adults and minors in DHS custody and is in the interest of protecting the child’s wellbeing.
The agency did not provide details nor release the proposed regulation. However, the proposed regulation may include a provision for USCIS to also request biometric information from immigrants with work permits or green cards at any point until they become a U.S. citizen through what seems to be continuous vetting.
Expansion of Data Collection to Strengthen the Immigration System
According to DHS, retinal, voice, and facial recognition technology provides quick ways to verify someone’s identity without using physical contact. According to Ken Cuccinelli, the Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Deputy Secretary for DHS, the collection of biometrics information guards against identity theft and, “thwarts fraudsters who are not who they claim to be… Leveraging these readily available technologies to verify the identity of a person during screening is responsible governing.”
Members of the Public Will Have Their Say
Like similar proposals made by DHS in the past, this proposed rule is also going to be published in the Federal Register where members of the public will be able to comment on it. It usually takes several months for a new DHS policy to take effect after public comment.