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Feds have new system for expired visa holders

A few years back, a person staying beyond the limits of their visas could pretty much go unnoticed. However, yesterday the feds reported that they are taking a new approach to people who overstay their welcome using recently developed databases.

A top official for Homeland Security said that several security, immigration and law enforcement databases are now being used to cross-check overstayed-visa files, automatically checking for people who pose a risk to national security.

This is a big upgrade from the previous system, the Homeland Security official said, in which agents had to manually check through the databases. At yesterday's congressional hearing on visa security, the official said that the new process is "a pretty fully baked approach to how we're going to deal with this issue."

Prior to beginning the new system, there was a backlog of 1.6 million cases of unchecked overstayed visas that had accumulated. After beginning the electronic checks, Homeland Security determined that 800,000 people had either left the country or fixed their expired visa.

After going through the remaining 839,000 who were considered to be in the country still with an expired visa, they flagged 2,000 that raised red flags for national security or public safety reasons. After investigating, many of the 2,000 turned out to already be in jail or out of the country, the Homeland Security official reported.

The overhaul of the system was considered of great importance after it turned out that several of the terrorists involved in 9/11 were in the country on expired visas.

The 9/11 Commission had urged that an exit program that "logged out" immigrants in the country on expired visas should also be used, but Homeland Security officials said that this would cost too much money.

With all the new laws and programs in place, now is certainly the time to update an expired visa. Many people choose not to do so because it is a complicated process; however, help is available and it could prevent a person from being deported.

Source: The New York Times, "Overstaying visa holders targeted by feds in terror sweep," Erica Pearson, Sept. 14, 2011.

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