New facial recognition technology to speed international travelers through customs has arrived at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

A digital camera will snap a picture of an arriving passenger, allowing Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers to instantly verify their identity and automatically complete document checks required to enter the United States.

MSP is the 31st airport in the nation to implement the facial biometric screening process called Simplified Arrival. The system recently debuted in both Terminal 1 and Terminal 2.

"The system will improve the experience for our arriving international passengers," said Brian Ryks, CEO of the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which operates the airport.

With Simplified Arrival, passengers get a touchless screening with "incredible time savings," said Steven Bansbach, a spokesman with CBP's Office of Public Affairs.

In most cases, passengers choosing the facial biometric scan can skip waiting in line to see a customs officer. In as few as 15 seconds "you are admitted to the United States," he said.

MSP had 1.65 million passengers arrive on international flights in 2019, according to the airport commission.

Simplified Arrival allows customs to compare the facial photo taken at the inspection point with images the traveler has already provided to the government, such as passport and visa photos.

It also allows agents to confirm the identity of foreign travelers who previously visited the U.S. without collecting their fingerprints.

New photos of U.S. citizens taken at the airport will be deleted from the system within 12 hours.

Photos of most foreign nationals will be stored in a secure Department of Homeland Security system, Customs and Border Protection said.

Travelers whose photos cannot be verified on site will be vetted through traditional screening procedures. That includes meeting in person with a customs agent and producing legal travel documents for inspection.

"Nobody needs to worry if their picture isn't verified," Bansbach said. "They aren't automatically denied entry."

Simplified Arrival comes as MSP is removing self-service kiosks that travelers use to swipe passports, provide fingerprints and answer questions before being admitted to the country.

The machines are being removed as the airport commission reconfigures security areas for international arrivals with additional queuing and to improve social distancing measures.

Simplified Arrivals was rolled out in 2018 and has been operating at a 99% facial match success rate, Bansbach said.

Since its debut, the system has been used to screen more than 61 million travelers and allowed the CBP to catch 375 impostors who tried entering the country illegally by using credentials issued to another person, Bansbach said.

In addition to major airports such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Dallas-Fort Worth and Las Vegas, where Simplified Arrival has already been deployed, Custom and Border Protection plans to add more locations this year, Bansbach said.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768