Fingerprints for immigration procedures in the U.S.

U.S. immigration authorities use biometric fingerprinting to identify individuals, as well as for subsequent checks of their immigration and criminal histories, if any. Based on these verifications, immigration control officials can make decisions such as, for example: the approval of a permanent residence card or, on the contrary, the denial of the American visa.

There are certainly many situations where fingerprints are used and required in the United States. Pay attention to the following sections to learn everything you need to know about this biometric record.

Why is fingerprint identification used in the U.S.?

The main reason is simple, there are no two individuals with identical fingerprints. That’s why the United States prioritizes this option over any other alternative. It is certainly a more accurate tool than DNA, as two individuals can share the same genetic material but not the same fingerprints.

In addition to the above, the process of collecting fingerprints and checking them is much faster and more accurate (scanners that collect and provide this biometric information in just a few seconds) than in other alternatives. However, there is a percentage of people (between 1 and 2%) who find it difficult or even impossible to read their fingerprints. For these cases, there are alternatives ranging from photographs of the individual to DNA testing.

What immigration procedures are fingerprints required for in the U.S.?

This is a very common process that applies to most immigration procedures in the United States. For example: when applying for a non-immigrant visa such as a tourist visa to the U.S. or to apply for an immigrant visa to obtain a permanent residence card in the U.S.. In turn, the US-Visit program requires that fingerprints be taken at all U.S. ports of entry (ports, airports and land borders).

Fingerprints are also collected for other exceptional migratory processes such as:

  1. Asylum in the United States
  2. T or U humanitarian visas (human trafficking or violence)
  3. Citizenship acquisition for undocumented youth (DACA)

However, there are individuals or groups who are exempt from sharing their footprints. They are as follows:

  1. American citizens
  2. Foreign diplomats with A or G visas
  3. Mexican and Canadian citizens who have a valid crossover visa
  4. Permanent residents who left the country and returned to it through the same port

There is another case in which fingerprints are taken for migratory reasons and it is when being detained trying to enter illegally without a visa in the USA. Fingerprints will also be required of those U.S. or migrant individuals who are arrested or detained by federal, state or local authorities anywhere in the country.

Finally, remember that your fingerprints will not be required to process ESTA for the United States, however, they will be taken once you enter the country. There must be a record of all those who enter and leave the country with an entry authorization or H1B visa.

Note: Biometric fingerprint data are almost generally not collected from individuals under 14 years of age or over 79 years of age.

Where are fingerprints taken?

Depending on the situation or motive, biometric fingerprinting may be carried out at one location or another:

  1. When required at immigration checkpoints, fingerprints are taken by the Border Patrol (CBP) at the U.S. port, airport, or land border where the individual is located. CBP border agents are also responsible for taking the fingerprints of undocumented migrants who have been detained while attempting to cross the U.S. border illegally.
  2. In order to carry out immigration procedures such as applying for a non-immigrant visa or asylum permit, among others, an appointment is made to take fingerprints. In these cases, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) sends a letter to the applicant with confirmation of the appointment and the address of the Applicant Assistance Center (CAS) where the applicant must go to have their biometrics taken. These centers are located in some countries such as: Mexico, Dominican Republic or Argentina. However, there are countries where fingerprints are taken directly at the U.S. embassy or consulate.
  3. The relevant authorities will also take your fingerprints in the event of arrest or detention. Once they collect your biometric data, they will share it with both the FBI and relevant databases. In the worst case, in addition to the fingerprints, the individual may be placed in the custody of immigration authorities until further notice.

Tip: the easiest way to know when and where we need to provide our biometric data is to know the requirements for the American visa. Ultimately, do not hesitate to consult the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy.

What do U.S. immigration authorities do with fingerprints?

The biometric data collected through fingerprints are stored in different databases for later use. The FBI, the country’s main investigative agency, has access to millions of fingerprints collected in the databases of different organizations in the country. CBP (U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection) manages biometric data through the TECS system. The Department of State has the CCD database.

One of the agencies that most relies on fingerprint verification is USCIS, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. This U.S. agency has access to information from the databases mentioned above and can easily check important migratory data such as: full names of individuals, dates of birth, criminal records, postal addresses, etc.

Information obtained by fingerprints

When it comes to making use, for migration purposes, of information obtained through fingerprints, it is usually for one of these three reasons:

  1. Knowing the identity of an individual and detecting immediately if his personal data or documents are illegal, such as when they belong to another person or are falsified.
  2. Determine whether a person has committed some type of crime or misdemeanour that makes him or her liable to deportation, such as being considered inadmissible.
  3. Detecting immigration violations by checking an individual’s fingerprints. This includes situations such as:
  • That there is no record of the foreign citizen’s fingerprints in any database of the Department of State or the Department of Homeland Security, indicating that the country was entered in an irregular situation.
  • Having hidden in any of the immigration forms any crime for which you have been arrested or detained. Consult the following link to learn more about traveling to the U.S. with a criminal record.
  • Not to have left the country once the permit to be in it has expired, that is to say, to exceed the limit of stay authorized in the visa to the United States. These cases can mean the immediate deportation of the foreign citizen. See the link about entering the United States after being deported for more information.
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