Possible U.S. Fingerprint Rules Could Apply to U.K.

April 29, 2008
A proposed addendum to the Department of Homeland Security's US-VISIT program would require foreign nationals, which would include, of course, travelers from the United Kingdom, to submit fingerprints before departing the U.S. Currently, the program only fingerprints visitors when they enter the country at key airports, cruise ports and land border-crossing spots. But there's a catch -- cruise lines and airlines would be required to foot the nearly $3 billion cost of the program.

Not unexpectedly, travel providers are protesting the proposal. They claim the government is outsourcing its security responsibilities and that the new procedures will create long lines at ports of departure -- after these private companies have spent a lot of money on technology that would reduce queues. In addition, travel providers struggling to make ends meet as fuel costs go through the roof are not in a position to shell out the estimated $2.7 billion over 10 years that the fingerprinting initiative may cost.

Should the proposal pass, foreign nationals flying into the country to take a cruise would get fingerprinted four times: at the airport entering the U.S., at the cruise port during embarkation, again at the cruise port upon debarkation, and finally at the airport once again before flying home.

A representative for the US-VISIT program told us that test programs have been in the works at cruise ports and that the fingerprinting process goes quite quickly during embarkation and debarkation because of the setup of cruise terminals. The system does not work as well at airports. The spokesperson also said that if the airlines and cruise lines can convince DHS they can't afford to run the program, an alternative solution will be found.

Cruise lines and airlines have 60 days to submit comments on the proposal. DHS intends to implement the exit program by January 2009.

--by Erica Silverstein, Associate Editor