US-VISIT may help find overstays

Overstay Tracking: A Key Component of Homeland Security and a Layered Defense

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The Homeland Security Department's new visitor tracking system may help fix some of the weaknesses in the department's process for tracking arrival and departure and provide a better picture of visa overstays, a General Accounting Office report found.

The U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program is intended to collect and match travelers' entry and exit data, thus identifying visitors who overstay their visas. This process may address some of the weaknesses associated with the current tracking process, which is based the collection of the immigration form I-94.

"Unresolved weaknesses in DHS' long-standing system for tracking visitors' arrivals and departures include, among others, noncollection of many departure forms and an inability to match departure forms to arrivals," the report states. "As a result, there is no accurate list of overstays. The recently initiated US-VISIT program -- a more comprehensive program -- may address some of these weaknesses."

The report cautioned that the design and implementation of US-VISIT faces several major challenges, but officials should examine whether the program can solve some of the overstay tracking woes.

As of January 2000, DHS estimated that 2.3 million visitors remain in the United States on overstayed visas, a number that could be decidedly larger considering the unknown number of overstays from Mexico and Canada, GAO officials said. Form I-94 is used to track overstays, when a visitor turns in part of the form upon departure. Weaknesses in this tracking process can hamper homeland security efforts to monitor suspicious individuals in the country, GAO officials said.

"We recognize than an overstay tracking system is only one ingredient in effective overstay control and enforcement," the report states. "However, we believe it is a crucial ingredient. Without an adequate overstay tracking system, an accurate list of overstays cannot be generated for control purposes."

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