Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is among 11 airports and two seaports that will test a government system next month in an effort to make sure foreign visitors leave when they’re supposed to, the Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday.
The pilot is an extension of the U.S.-VISIT Program. All foreign visitors who travel with a visa are fingerprinted and photographed, through the program, when they arrive at major U.S. airports and seaports. The fingerprints and photos are automatically checked against databases to ensure that documents are legitimate and the visitor’s name does not appear on terrorist or law enforcement watch lists.
Now, foreign visitors will face a similar process to check out of the country.
Tracking the departure dates of foreign visitors has been a problem, the government says. An estimated 35 percent to 40 percent of undocumented immigrants have overstayed their visas, Homeland Security spokesman Bill Strassberger said.
Any foreign visitor with a visa who leaves the United States through one of the pilot locations is required to comply with the exit procedure. After September 30, visitors traveling under the Visa Waiver Program will be required to comply.
A Sky Harbor spokesman said the check out process will begin in early September.
"We don’t expect it to cause any delays," said Debra Ostreicher, Sky Harbor spokeswoman. About 1.4 million international passengers pass through the airport each year, or about 3,000 to 4,000 a day. A majority of them are headed for Mexico or Canada, she said.
The airport serves a total of 100,000 passengers daily, Ostreicher said.
Ostreicher said kiosks will be in Terminals 2 and 4, and signs will be added soon.
Hinken said Sky Harbor was selected because the department wanted a broad selection of travelers arriving in the United States and the airport serves as a hub for Tempe-based America West Airlines.
A spokeswoman at Tempebased America West Airlines said the company was still trying to determine if the system would have enough kiosks to ensure departing passengers weren’t inconvenienced.
"We support effective enhancements to airport security," Janice Monahan said.
Hinken said the exit program will evaluated after 30 to 60 days to determine if it will become permanent like the arrival procedure.
The exit system will be added to these airports and seaports next month: William B. Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta; Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport; Denver International Airport; Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport; Newark International Airport, in New Jersey; Philadelphia International Airport; San Francisco International Airport; San Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Seattle/Tacoma International Airport and the San Pedro and Long Beach seaports, in California.
US-VISIT eventually is to be installed at land ports of entry.