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Officials admit to losing track of visa overstays

Even though a law was enacted in the 1990s that required the government to create a visa tracking system, federal officials confess to losing track of how many foreigners remain in the United States each year beyond the expiration of their visas. South Carolina residents might also be surprised that one official revealed during the House Oversight Committee hearing on Dec. 17 that the government does not know the locations of all of the former visa holders of the 9,500 visas that have been revoked for terrorism concerns since 2001.

During the hearing, the House Oversight Committee noted that Congress required in 1996 that a biometric exit system with eye scans, fingerprints and photos be put in place to detect visa overstays. The 9/11 Commission was the first to outline the urgency for tracking visa overstays and recommended that the Department of Homeland Security complete an entry and exit tracking system. One staff member says that having accurate data is vital to reducing the threat that ISIS has declared. Even after spending millions of dollars on the effort, however, officials can only estimate how many foreigners remain past the expiration date on their visas.

Agencies have also failed since 1994 to report to Congress on the number of visa holders who remain in the country illegally. The assistant secretary for international affairs at the DHS told Congress that a report is expected to be released in six months. However, the former secretary of the DHS initially promised this report in 2013.

It is important for foreign visitors to keep track of when their visas expire. In some cases, they could get extensions to remain in the country. Foreigners who are unsure of the visa requirements or about how to seek an extension could get advice from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services representatives or may ask for an immigration attorney's help.

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