A crowd of people crossing a crosswalk in a busy city

The Immigration Observer

CBP “Simplified Arrival” Program

January 09, 2023

Expansion of “Simplified Arrival”

In June 2022, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced that it has completed the expansion of biometric facial comparison technology at all international airports across the United States to further secure and streamline international travel. The program, which CBP has dubbed “Simplified Arrival,” had previously been available only at select airports. The program involves the use of a facial biometrics system to automate the manual document checks that are already required for admission into the United States. CBP claims that the program is intended to “provide travelers with a secure, more touchless travel experience while fulfilling a longstanding Congressional mandate to biometrically record the entry and exit of non-U.S. citizens.”

How Simplified Arrival Works

Through Simplified Arrival, CBP uses airline manifest data and a cloud-based matching service to retrieve existing traveler images from government documents, including passports and visas, to build a photo gallery of expected travelers prior to a flight’s arrival. As travelers arrive and approach the inspection booth, CBP takes their photographs to compare and match them to its pre-assembled gallery. A match provides CBP officers with the necessary information to complete their inspection faster and more accurately. A CBP officer will then interview the traveler to verify the results, establish the purpose of travel, and determine admissibility.

Purported Benefits

CBP notes that Simplified Arrival will have the following benefits:

Faster clearance process

Shorter connection times

Paperless travel environment

Standardized arrival procedures

No need for fingerprint collection from returning foreign visitors

Safer travel environment

Increased identity assurance that reduces the imposter threat

Decreased need for investment in new Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosks 

Privacy Concerns

There are reasonable privacy concerns with any program that uses and digitally stores sensitive personal biometric data. CBP claims that it has employed strong security measures to protect traveler data, including limiting the amount of personally identifiable information used in the facial biometric process. Additionally, CBP claims that it deletes new photos of U.S. citizens within 12 hours, while photos of most foreign nationals are stored in a secure Department of Homeland Security system.

Know Your Rights

While Simplified Arrival is now available at all international airports, it is important to highlight that it is NOT mandatory for travelers who are not legally required to provide biometrics, regardless of citizenship or nationality. U.S. travelers and foreign nationals who are not required to provide biometrics may opt out of the new screening process by simply notifying a CBP officer as they approach the primary inspection point. These travelers will be required to present a valid travel document and will be processed consistent with existing requirements for admission into the United States.

Find an article...