May 23, 2017 -
The Department of Homeland Security released a report that estimated that 629,000 visitors to the United States — which represents just over 1 percent of all travelers — overstayed their visas in 2016 due to the lack of a comprehensive biometric exit system at the nation’s ports of departure, according to a report by The New York Times.
Department officials said the figure presents a significant national security risk, and that a comprehensive biometric exit system is needed to properly capture data on nonimmigrant visitors who leave the country.
To confirm that a visitor has left the U.S., the department currently relies on third-party departure data, which can sometimes provide inaccurate information about a visitor’s departure or arrival status.
Following the September 11th attacks, the 9/11 Commission recommended that the DHS introduce an entry and exit tracking system “as soon as possible.”
In January, President Donald Trump signed an immigration-focused executive order which included a proposal to expedite the development and deployment of the biometric exit system.
More recently, the Trump administration revealed plans to expand the use of facial recognition systems at airports around the U.S.
Without a biometric exit system in place, legislators and DHS officials believe that terrorists could potentially take advantage of vulnerabilities in the visa program.
This marks only the second report the DHS has issued in the last 20 years despite being required by law to release annual reports.
DHS officials said the report’s information covered foreign visitors to the country on planes or ships, despite more individuals entering the country by land.
The Office of Inspector General released a report this month that found that the DHS could not keep track of all visa overstays in data it reports to Congress.
The same report also revealed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency tasked with investigating in-country visa overstays, had to collect data from dozens of systems and databases.
In addition, some of the aforementioned systems and databases were not integrated and did not electronically share data.