US overstay figures throw spotlight on biometric exit plans
22 May 2017 18:03 GMT

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has revealed that more than 750,000 travellers over-stayed their visas in the last fiscal year, an increase that will likely intensify calls for a long-awaited biometric exit programme that could keep better track of visitors to the country.

Writing in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Entry/Exit Overstay Report, the DHS revealed that of the more that 50 million nonimmigrant admissions at US air and sea ports processed in the year, 739,478 overstayed their admission, resulting in a total overstay rate of 1.47 percent.

The DHS added that out of these 739,000 overstays, DHS determined 628,799 were suspected “in-country” overstays, resulting in a suspected in-country overstay rate of 1.25 percent - an individual who is a suspected in-country overstay has no recorded departure, while an out-of-country overstay has a recorded departure that occurred after their lawful admission period expired.

The highest rates of overstays were from countries outside the visa-waiver program. For example, 13 percent of the visitors from Afghanistan overstayed their visas, while nearly 11 percent of those from Iraq overstayed. The highest rates of overstays were from African countries. A quarter of all visitors from Burkina Faso and Djibouti overstayed their tourist or business visa.

In the same report for Fiscal Year 2015, the DHS recorded that of the nearly 45 million nonimmigrant visitor admissions through air or sea ports of entry that were expected to depart in FY 2015, 527,127 individuals overstayed their admission, for a total overstay rate of 1.17 percent. 

At the time, lawmakers said the figures were too high - Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), said the “report should be a wakeup call for the administration to take steps to fully implement the law”, adding that “There is no way to truly determine how many people overstayed their visas without a biometric exit system”.

The release of the higher 2016 figure comes amid growing momentum towards the implementation of a biometric  entry and exit system, which was initially sought in 2004 by the independent, bi-partisan 9/11 Commission.

In January, President Trump signed an executive order titled, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”, which calls for the Secretary of Homeland Security to “expedite” the long planned, but not-yet-implemented biometric exit system for travelers to the US.

By May, John Wagner, deputy assistant commissioner at CBP, laid out a vision for a facial recognition based biometric exit system at the connect:ID 2017 conference in Washington DC.

“We’re going to build this for [Biometric] Exit. We’re out of time, we have to,” Wagner told the crowd. “But why not make this available to everyone? Why not look to drive the innovation across the entire airport experience?”

Wagner said facial recognition could also be used to identify travelers arriving in the US, including passport-holding citizens

Politicians paint biometric entry and exit as a more realistic option to secure US borders than others.

Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) in remarks also at connect:ID, said biometric identification technology would be more cost-effective than President Trump’s planned border wall.

"We're looking for ways to make the border work more efficiently, not shut it down,” said Peters. Keynote speaker, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) also sees biometric technology as a key to enhanced border security. Biometric technologies, he said in remarks at the same conference, are "key" to expanding visa entry-exit security programs and blocking terrorists from moving through the southern border and into the U.S. 

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