State dept confirms how biometrics used to vet refugees
18 November 2015 14:17 GMT

The US State department has confirmed that refugees arriving in the country from war-torn Syria will need to undergo multiple identity checks, including biometrics.

In a background briefing on the matter, a spokesperson said: “The safeguards that are used include biometrics, or fingerprint and biographic checks, and a lengthy in-person overseas interview that is carried out by specially trained DHS – Department of Homeland Security – officers”.

These officers scrutinize the applicant’s explanation of individual circumstances to ensure the applicant is a bona fide refugee and is not known to present security concerns to the United States, said an unnamed senior administration official.

“So refugee applicants of all nationalities go through both biographic – that’s name and date of birth and other biographic elements – and also biometric security checks. So we check fingerprints for all refugee applicants. Collecting that information and coordinating those checks is a shared responsibility between the Department of State and DHS.

“And then, as I mentioned, the – it’s other agencies within the federal government, including the FBI, the Department of Defense, and others, who actually vet the information of the refugee applicants against those other holdings.

“With respect to the biometric checks, there really are sort of three partners behind the biometric checks. So we check against FBI holdings – so if anyone had been in the United States, if a criminal record, for example, had been committed in – been recorded in the United States, we would have that information.

“The DHS also coordinates another set of biometric holdings, which are not necessarily criminal, but have various types of civil information. So if a refugee applicant had applied, for example, for a visa overseas, gone to a U.S. embassy or consulate, their biometric could be captured at that time. That’s not necessarily derogatory, but it gives us information about whether the person’s been consistent in terms of their identity, the location, their nationality, so that’s information that we’re very interested in. And then the third piece is the Department of Defense. We check against some Department of Defense biometric holdings as well.”

Currently, the approval rate is a little over 50 percent, but the other half of that – the other 50 percent includes both denials and cases that are still pending, said the official.