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U.S. Can’t Trace Foreign Visitors on Expired Visas

Posted on October 13, 2009
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U.S. Can’t Trace Foreign Visitors on Expired Visas

By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr. and JULIA PRESTON for the NYT on October 12, 2009

DALLAS — Eight years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and despite repeated mandates from Congress, the United States still has no reliable system for verifying that foreign visitors have left the country.

New concern was focused on that security loophole last week, when Hosam Maher Husein Smadi, a 19-year-old Jordanian who had overstayed his tourist visa, was accused in court of plotting to blow up a Dallas skyscraper

Last year alone, 2.9 million foreign visitors on temporary visas  checked in to the country but never officially checked out, immigration officials said. While officials say they have no way to confirm it, they suspect that several hundred thousand of them overstayed their visas. 

Over all, the officials said, about 40 percent of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States came on legal visas and overstayed.

The current system relies on departing foreigners to turn in a paper stub when they leave.

Last year, official figures show, 39 million foreign travelers were admitted on temporary visa. Based on the paper stubs, homeland security officials said, they confirmed the departure of 92.5 percent of them. Most of the remaining visitors did depart, officials said, but failed to check out because they did not know how to do so. But more than 200,000 of them are believed to have overstayed intentionally.

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