Pulling on the Thread of the VISA Bureaucracy
Following the attacks of September 11th one of the immediate concerns was the millions of people who had entered the United States with legal temporary VISAS and had "somehow" become lost or misplaced. This was known as the VISA overstay problem. It is still estimated that as many as 30% of the people living illegally in this country have overstayed their temporary VISAS (nearly 200 million temporary visitors come to this country each year).
Today, the problem of VISA Overstay remains unsolved .
Last year, 39 million foreigners entered the United States, and using paper logs, DHS has confirmed that 92.5 percent have left the country. Of the remaining 2.9 million foreign visitors, an estimated 200,000 are believed to have intentionally overstayed their visas. Over all, immigration officials said, about 40 percent of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States came on legal visas and overstayed.
The question of VISA Overstays is probably a topic for discussion in a longer analysis at some point. But while policy makers debate whether the use of new technologies like biometrics and fingerprinting, or simply greater vigilance of people entering and leaving the country is a better way to reliably track the overstays, one very real question is raised by the recent revelation that would be terrorist bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's 2004 VISA request to enter the U.S. had originally been rejected because he had lied on his application but that the rejection had been reversed when he reapplied in 2008.
Abdulmutallab first applied for a U.S. visa in Lome, Togo, but was told that he needed to apply closer to his place of residence in Nigeria. He returned to Lagos and filed an application that stated incorrectly that he had never been denied a visa, leading a consular official to deny him one. "It's kind of outrageous that the consular officer overturned this denial in the first place," Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said in an interview. "The second thing is, if you go back to his first coming to this country, he could have been denied because he had lied on a previous application."
Calling for increased VISA security officers at overseas offices to enhance screening of applicants is one possible step. But this is not a law enforcement issue. It is an issue of National Security. All excuses aside, it is probably time to institute a "one strike and you're out" policy when it comes to lying or misrepresenting facts on applications to enter this country. If we have difficulty in finding people who have overstayed their VISAS, the least we can do is prevent people like Abdulmutallab who lied once and was caught, from entering in the first place. Excusing his lie (or misrepresentation) as a misunderstanding (no willful misrepresentation) on his part is a hole that should be filled. Leaving human judgment to err on the side of enabling someone like Abdulmutallab to try again can't possibly be good security policy.