Biometric Technologies Help Spot Immigration Violations

When the movie Minority Report came out in 2002, mass biometric scanning was still the stuff of science fiction. Set in Washington in 2054, it depicts a world where citizens are biometrically monitored, via iris recognition, as they go about their day-to-day business.

At the time, this seemed an unlikely scenario, or at least a long way off. But now, that’s no longer the case. Not only is iris recognition widely used, but so, too, are other means of identifying individuals via their physical characteristics and behavioral traits. These range from processes that have been used for years, such as fingerprint and facial recognition, to newer and developing methods such as voice authentication; palm and vein matching; and gait, heartbeat, and gesture analysis.

As we’ve seen, this has—and will continue to have—huge implications for all of us. Within the mobility sector, one area in which the impact may be felt most is employee travel to foreign locations.

For many, biometrics can make travel easier, as it eliminates the need to show paper documents (e.g., passports and boarding passes) at checkpoints. But for others, it can make it harder. As biometric technologies become more prevalent at global ports of entry and exit, employees flying under the radar—without a business visa if conducting business activities or a work permit for work—will be far more likely to be caught and penalized. So will their employers. 

How It Works 

Biometric technologies provide immigration authorities with a faster and easier way to identify violations, which is accomplished by analyzing travel patterns.

Typically, the process begins when a traveler’s biometric data (e.g., facial details, fingerprints, and/or iris patterns) is collected at a port of exit or entry via image scanners and cameras, and is stored in a database. If this information hasn’t been obtained from the individual during previous travel, there will generally be nothing in the system to compare it with. But once it’s in there—either in a country’s own database or that of other countries or organizations with which it shares information—it can be used to track the subject’s comings and goings.

Should an immigration violation be suspected, an investigation would most likely result. When it comes to noncompliant business travel, a typical red flag would be multiple trips to the same location within, say, six months by someone using a business or personal visa. Although the person might claim he or she was just visiting, immigration authorities would most likely be able to determine that this wasn’t the case.

The Consequences of Noncompliance

Consequences for business travel violations can sometimes depend upon whether they are intentional or not, with stricter penalties imposed for willful disregard. In some instances, employers don’t realize these requirements exist, so they aren’t knowingly ignoring them. In other cases, though, employers are well aware of the requirements but ignore them anyway. This is particularly true when it comes to a required work permit. As the process for getting one can be lengthy and complex, a company may opt for the faster—and illegal—route of sending an employee to a foreign location with a business or visitor visa.

Consequences, which vary by country, can include temporary or permanent bans on re-entry, civil and criminal charges for both employer and employee, involuntary closure of business operations, reputational risk, and/or imprisonment. In many countries a company may also have its sponsorship revoked.

As of now, utilization of biometric technologies for travel is still somewhat spotty, although this is rapidly changing. Fingerprint and facial recognition and/or iris scans are currently being used at numerous major airports worldwide, and a quick search of the topic shows that many more are planning to implement these procedures in the near future, as is also the case with smaller airports and other ports of entry and exit. 

The technology isn’t without its drawbacks, and some note that biometric data can be misused, particularly if it is hacked or stolen. It’s not always 100 percent accurate either, although the degree of potential inaccuracy depends upon the technology.  Advocates, however, say security and convenience outweigh these risks, as biometrics can ultimately make it safer and easier to travel.

The above information is excerpted from a July 2017 Mobility magazine article. Read the full text for more information and examples of violation penalties.

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