DHS travel authorization system allows thousands to slip through cracks

The Homeland Security Department is allowing about 364,000 foreign visitors from visa waiver countries to travel into the United States each year without obtaining all the proper authorizations, a Government Accountability Office told a Senate subcommittee on March 27.

Currently, there are 36 countries that have signed agreements to jointly waive visas for travel to and from the United States.

About 98 percent of visitors from those countries are complying with DHS’ Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), but the department has not assessed the security risks posed by the 2 percent of travelers who are not compliant, Rebecca Gambler, director of homeland security and justice issues for the GAO, said in her testimony.

Under the electronic system, travelers must submit biographical information and provide answers to eligibility questions prior to travel. Approval is good for two years.

In 2010, airlines complied with the requirement to verify approvals with the electronic system for almost 98 percent of visa waiver program passengers prior to boarding.

“The remaining 2 percent—about 364,000 travelers—traveled under the program without verified ESTA approval,” the GAO said in its report.

The GAO reported on the problem a year ago, but DHS has not completed a review to date. DHS officials told the watchdog agency they would begin quarterly risk reviews.

In addition, DHS has reported that only about half of the 36 countries that have agreed to visa waivers are fully compliant with the signed agreements. “Many of the signed agreements have not been implemented,” GAO said in the report.

DHS said it has established a compliance schedule to make the agreements final by June 2012.

The hearing was held by the Senate Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

Featured

  • Cybersecurity

    DHS floats 'collective defense' model for cybersecurity

    Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wants her department to have a more direct role in defending the private sector and critical infrastructure entities from cyberthreats.

  • Defense
    Defense Secretary James Mattis testifies at an April 12 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.

    Mattis: Cloud deal not tailored for Amazon

    On Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sought to quell "rumors" that the Pentagon's planned single-award cloud acquisition was designed with Amazon Web Services in mind.

  • Census
    shutterstock image

    2020 Census to include citizenship question

    The Department of Commerce is breaking with recent practice and restoring a question about respondent citizenship last used in 1950, despite being urged not to by former Census directors and outside experts.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.