The use of biometric technology to verify the departure of foreign nationals from U.S. airports on international flights in accordance with their visa terms is showing positive results so far in limited deployments, the Department of Homeland Security says.

Through Sept. 30, 2018, Customs and Border Protection and its stakeholders had deployed facial recognition at 15 locations, with additional airports and airlines committing to install the biometric exit operations, DHS says in its annual report on foreign nationals that entered the country illegally but who overstayed their visas.

“Since its inception, over two million passengers on over 15,000 flights have used the technology on exit, with an average biometric match rate of 98 percent,” the Fiscal Year 2018 Entry/Exit Overstay Report says. “As of December 2018, over 7,000 Out-Of-Country Overstays have been biometrically confirmed.”

NEC Corp.’s facial matching algorithms are used by CBP in its backend biometric matching system. Photo: NEC

An out-of-country overstay refers to a nonimmigrant that arrived in the U.S. legally and eventually left the country but only after their visa term expired.

The report also says that the uses of biometrics to identify foreign nationals arriving in the U.S. by plane has helped stop fraudulent entries. So far, biometric data has identified “six travelers attempting entry presenting travel documents not belonging to them, or presenting altered travel documents,” it says.

CBP began implementing fingerprint-based checks of foreign arrivals at U.S. airports in 2004. The agency has now begun the switch to facial recognition checks upon arrival.

The 9/11 Commission that was stood up in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the U.S. recommended that biometrics be used to help verify the departure of foreign nationals from the U.S. at air, land and seaports.

Full deployment of facial recognition systems at U.S. airport departure gates is expected to be complete within the next four years, accounting for over 97 percent of commercial air travelers leaving the country, DHS says.

Former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson in the last year of the Obama administration directed CBP to move forward more aggressively with the deployment of a biometric exit solution at U.S. airports. CBP provides the backend facial matching system, called the Traveler Verification Service, to match the face photos capture at airline departure gates where cameras are installed. Airports and airlines are providing the front-end cameras and related software and systems to capture the photos of all travelers boarding an international flight.

Deployments of biometrics to land border ports have been more limited. The report says that CBP is using a Biometric Exit Mobile (BE-Mobile) application at land borders nationwide as part of “pulse and surge operations to process exiting travelers,” further helping to resolve overstays. DHS says that from December 2017 through November 2018 biometric records were created on over 23,000 travelers leaving the U.S. at land ports.

Beginning in 2018, CBP has been piloting facial recognition technology in land border ports to test the feasibility of the technology on pedestrians and travelers in vehicles. In the pedestrian environment, the report says over 85 people have attempted to present travel documents that weren’t theirs.

DHS says that the land border is more challenging than air and seaports to collect departure information “due to the major physical, logistical, and operational obstacles involved with electronically collecting an individual’s biographic and biometric data. Additionally, in the land environment, it is not feasible to obtain advance reporting of arrivals and departures, as the majority of travelers cross the borders using their own vehicle or as a pedestrian.”

In FY ’18, DHS says $54.7 million nonimmigrants were admitted into the U.S. and of that total 1.22 percent, or 666,582, overstayed their visas. It says further that 1.04 percent, or 569,604 of the overstays were still in the U.S. at the end of the fiscal year. As of March 1, 2019, the in-country overstays had dropped to 1.04 percent, or 415,684.