According to a report from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), America now hosts more than 700,000 people that overstayed their visas throughout the last fiscal year.
Visa Overstays a Growing Problem
The department found that of the 50 million people who entered the country legally, 739,478 failed to leave before their visas expired. The numbers include foreigners who overstayed by one day their allowable time along with foreigners that had no plan of leaving the U.S. ever.
A department official said that America now has a “problem with visa overstays” since the official number of visa overstays is nearing Seattle’s population. The official thinks the immigration system might be compromised.
Of the overstays reported last year, 628,799 people were not seen leaving the country, marking a phenomenon known as the in-country overstay. Nevertheless, changes to immigration status and mobility lowered the number of overstays to 544,676 as of Jan. 10.
The report includes 96 percent of foreigners that arrived in the U.S. on temporary visas. This group includes students, workers, business travelers, exchange visitors, tourists, and airline crews.
In 2016, the DHS did not include the last two categories and foreigners who go through land checkpoints in the report. DHS checked the overstays to see whether they extended their stay in the U.S. or requested an immigration benefit.
Italy, France, and Germany combined have the largest number of overstays in the U.S. The overstays entered the U.S. on a travel visa for pleasure or business under the Visa Waiver Program, a program that enables travelers from 38 countries to come to the U.S. on vacation or business trip without a visa.
Visa Overstays Boost Risk of Terrorism
The said visa program creates a series of national security hurdles, when ISIS-linked Europeans decide to return home. DHS Sec. John Kelly explained these foreigners can learn from the U.S. a lot about crafting IEDs and using drones on the battlefield, and then taking that experience with them back home.
They can later return to the U.S. and commit horrific acts of violence. It is worth noting that two of the 9/11 hijackers overstayed their visas. In 2001, the 9/11 Commission urged the Bush administration to closely monitor visitors that enter and exit the U.S.
Brazil has even more overstays than the U.S., followed by Venezuela, China and Colombia. None of these countries is part of the Visa Waiver Program.
However, DHS numbers may not be accurate as people can lie about their departure. Currently, the departures are only tracked by looking at the airplanes manifests. The DHS has proposed biometric data such as fingerprints but the technology is still unreliable.
For instance, a traveler can get scanned at the check in but he can still refuse to leave. If he is scanned at the gates, airports have to put up with time and space constraints. At the Atlanta airport, a system based on facial recognition is currently being tested. The system matches travelers’ faces with their photos just before the departure.
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