According to this article in the New York Times, Congress is concerned that US Immigration and other law enforcement officers are having a hard time tracing those foreigners who enter the country and then stay beyond the period specified by their terms of entry. To be honest, I can’t see why that is a surprise to the elected representatives; if anything, it simply suggests that they have no experience of the entry process in question. As someone who has been through it a few times now, perhaps I can offer some enlightenment:
- on entry, the visitor is invited to give a street address for their first night’s stay in the US. A hotel address is fine… and of course the chances that the Immigration officer will be able to spot a non-existent or invalid address are zero.
- the visa waiver form offered to UK citizens has been revised this year, and now asks for a mobile phone number and an email address where you can be reached. Frankly, I thought this was an impertinence and left it blank… but I have not yet been challenged for doing so.
- on exit from the US, as the NY Times article points out, visitors are supposed to hand in the counterfoil of their entry form… but the process for doing so is unreliable. In my experience, the check-in clerk usually removes it from my passport – though these days, with self-service check-in, home-printed boarding passes and so on, I have no idea what I would do with the counterfoil if I were travelling with just hand-luggage.
In fact, a couple of visits back, my counterfoil was left in my passport on exit. I pointed it out to the Immigration officer on my next arrival and got mildly reproached, but was still allowed in. According to the Dept of Homeland Security, most counterfoils (92.5%) are returned correctly. But if one were to rely on that figure alone, the number of people whose exit status is indeterminate would be some 2,925,000.
As you may gather, I tend to be horribly law-abiding in this regard (mainly because the authorities can make your life disproportionately grim if they think you’re arsing about) – but even so, I have at least once (as above) ended up in that ‘indeterminate’ immigration status. On that basis, imagine how easy it must be for someone who is intent on dropping out of the system.