Immigrants living in the United States are all-too-familiar with filling out paperwork and jumping through plenty of hoops. Designed to keep track of who’s living in the country as well as for benefit disbursement, biometrics—biological measurements that provide personally-identifying information– is a pivotal part of the process.
For those facing the immigration bureaucracy, understanding the biometrics portion will only work to make the whole process run more smoothly.
What are biometrics?
Scientifically speaking, the term “biometrics” refers to the anatomical or physiological data that gives unique individual identifying information. In practical terms, biometrics usually refers to fingerprinting.
As each individual’s fingerprints are unique, this means database comparisons between law enforcement agencies can identify known criminals to keep them out of the country.
How are biometrics gathered?
While it’s the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) that requires the collection of biometric information, the fingerprinting process doesn’t occur at USCIS offices. Instead, Application Support Center (ASC) locations are tasked with this portion of the process.
Besides fingerprints, the biometric process includes taking a photo and providing an electronic signature capture.
USCIS sets up appointment times for those who need to provide biometric information. While the actual process takes only about 20 minutes, USCIS schedules multiple appointments for the same time. Taking a number on arrival to the ASC offices corresponds to a place in line. Individuals are called for appointments on a first-come, first-served basis. This means that even for those who arrive to appointment times promptly, a wait is likely when others with the same appointment time arrive earlier and get a number closer to the front of the line.
At the end of the biometrics appointment, you will be given a stamp on your appointment notice confirming that you attended. Keep this document safe, in case you are later asked for it or USCIS cannot find its record stating that you indeed came to the appointment.
Who needs biometrics taken?
All immigrants who are subject to an FBI criminal background check on request from the USCIS will be required to provide biometrics measures. The exception to this group are those immigrants who are 75 years of age or older.
How are biometric appointments scheduled?
USCIS schedules biometrics appointment by mail. The agency schedules these appointments after receiving initial paperwork. Those filing paperwork should wait to receive notification of their biometrics appointment in the mail and should not proactively work to schedule an appointment.
If an appointment time set up by the USCIS simply won’t work, the appointment notice includes rescheduling instructions.
Every effort to attend the assigned appointment time should be made.
Why are biometrics collected?
Fingerprints give law enforcement a way to positively identify known criminals. Through the positive identification process, law enforcement can more effectively keep the border secure by barring known criminals from staying in the country.
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) checks fingerprinting records against those held by police and by the USCIS, which often fingerprints those who are caught trying to cross the border illegally. Once the checks are complete, the FBI reports identity confirmation and any criminal violations.
A record of criminal violations can make applicants inadmissible, subject to deportation or ineligible for benefits.