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Immigration News - December 13, 2006

December 13, 2006

By Immigration Practice Group

Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative

The U.S. State Department recently issued an update to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI).  ALL persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling by air between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda on or after January 23, 2007 will be required to present a valid passport when reentering the United States.

The State Department has also advised, that as early as January 1, 2008, ALL persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling between the above-mentioned countries, by land or by sea (inclusive of ferry travel) may be required to present a valid passport or other documents as determined by the Department of Homeland Security.  While this is not yet a final determined date, ample advance notice will be provided to enable the public to obtain passports or passport cards (i.e. PASS Card, which is not yet available) for all land/sea entries.

The WHTI is the plan to implement and strengthen U.S. border security and facilitate entry into the United States for U.S. citizens and foreign nationals.  Clients may review the details regarding the WHTI at: 

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“E-Security” and the Global Business Traveler

When considering multiple business trips or short-term, rotational assignments, business travelers should be aware that newly-issued passports and visas may be imbedded with electronic security features.  As more “e-security” features are added to travel documents and visas, consular officials and port of entry officers will have ready access to a foreign national’s immigration information and entry/departure records in the destination country.  Therefore, business travelers should be aware of the entry/exit requirements and duration of stay limitations in a particular host country in order to avoid questioning or refusal of entry.

During the past decade, international business travel has dramatically increased due to the ease of air travel to more destinations.  This has also given rise to an increased incidence in the number of counterfeit travel documents and fraudulent visas presented to consulates and at ports of entry.  After September 2001, as many governments have realized that standard paper visas and handwritten passports are easily counterfeited, a renewed interest in introducing biometric security features has prevailed.

For immigration purposes, biometric and electronic security features generally include memory chip imbedded passports, digital photo technology, electronic encryption of personal information and fingerprint or eye scans.  Port-of-entry security measures feature high-speed electronic scanners that read travel document/entry clearance information, or “fast-lane” processing, and are increasingly found in the immigration arrival areas of major international airports and some high-volume land border checkpoints.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada recently announced a six-month biometrics field trial at Canadian consulates in Hong Kong and Seattle.  From October 2007 through April 2007, all temporary resident visa applicants (visitors, students, and workers) will be asked to participate in  biometric procedures as part of the visa application process at these Canadian consulates or at Canadian ports of entry.

In addition, several European Union countries, such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, and France, have recently begun the incorporation of biometric security features in passports and visas.  The United States and the United Kingdom are stepping up their efforts to imbed Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) or “smart-chips” in newly-issued national passports.  The United States is also stepping up enforcement of biometric entry document standards in 2007 in preparation of new travel guidelines for foreign travelers entering the United States (see alert above).

As more countries incorporate “e-security” features, it is important that all persons applying for passports, visas, or any other type of immigration document ensure that their biometric data is accurate at the time of application and upon receiving their travel documentation.  In addition, recent concerns in the United Kingdom have surfaced over electronic cloning of information contained on RFID imbedded passports with relatively inexpensive micro-chip readers.  Persons with RFID imbedded passports are advised to inquire at a passport agency to review security/prevention measures to protect themselves from potential identity theft while traveling.

In addition, companies and their employees should also be made aware that many biometric programs will be implemented under “pilot programs” by government agencies and consulates as well as at land-border crossings and airports.  As more governments begin implementing these newly-enhanced security features, applicants and travelers may face possible delays or additional requirements in applying for passports and visas, and in clearing immigration checkpoints.

Immigration News is published solely for the interests of friends and clients of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP and should in no way be relied upon or construed as legal advice. For specific information on recent developments or particular factual situations, the opinion of legal counsel should be sought. Paul Hastings is a limited liability partnership. Copyright © 2006 Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP.