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U.S tightens airport exit verification

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

Things were tight for the undocumented. They became tighter after Sept. 11. They are now poised to get tighter.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service is planning a revamped process of “exit verification” at U.S. international airports serving other countries, including Ireland.

A likely consequence of increased checking of travelers leaving the U.S. is the end of the familiar I-94 form, which is stapled into the traveler’s passport during the process of entering the United States.

It has not been unknown for undocumented immigrants to “lose” their I-94s, thus avoiding full verification of their late departure from the U.S.

This in turn gives the undocumented a chance to return to the U.S. legally.

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The checking of I-94s, primarily the responsibility of airline check-in desks and the passport-carrying traveler, has been stepped up noticeably at airports in the wake of Sept. 11.

An Aer Lingus spokesman said this week that the airlines now face “significant fines” for non-compliance with the I-94 process or for supplying inaccurate data.

“The information has to be totally accurate. There has been an enormous a amount of dialogue involving ourselves, the INS, U.S. Customs and airport management,” the spokesman added.

Even with these new demands for accuracy and efficiency from the airlines, the process of making departure recording an even more efficient one from the INS point of view is poised to advance rapidly in the coming months.

Congress passed legislation in 1996 authorizing new measures aimed at tracking the entry and exit of people from the U.S.

The process of applying the legislation has been delayed on a couple of occasions, but the events of Sept. 11 have added a greater sense of urgency to the process, INS spokesman Russ Bergeron said Tuesday.

Bergeron said that $38 million has been set aside as part of the INS budget for fiscal year 2003 that will be used as initial funding for setting up the new entry-and-exit verification system.

Fiscal 2003 begins Oct. 1 of this year.

“It’s too soon to speculate as to how the system will work or what form of technology will be used,” Bergeron said.

However, he indicated that the INS viewed the I-94 form process as being inefficient and flawed.

“The system as it currently works is deficient and not effective in capturing accurate information on departures,” he said. “It is our objective to have such an accurate record.

“The way it is now, the system relies on the alien and the airline and sometimes a separate contractor to enter the exit data. Sometimes the aliens lose or do not turn in their 1-94s. Sometimes the airlines do not do a good job, sometimes the contractors are slow entering the data.

“Change is coming, unequivocally.”

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