November 24, 2020
Washington announced on November 23 that it will launch a six-month trial program next month to force visitors from about two dozen countries to post thousands of dollars in bonds before they enter the United States.
The aim, first spelled out in a presidential memorandum 19 months ago, is to discourage travelers from countries with high rates of visa offenders from overstaying their business and tourism visas.
Its planned rollout by President Donald Trump’s administration comes just weeks before Democrat Joe Biden is expected to be sworn in as the 46th U.S. president in January.
The program, which can require the posting of bonds of up to $15,000, does not apply to immigrant visas.
The State Department said the rule will take effect on December 24, less than a month before the inauguration of a new administration, and continue through most of June.
It should target holders of business (B-1) and tourism (B-2) visas from around two dozen countries whose overstay rates exceeded 10 percent in 2019, most of them in Africa but also including Iran and Afghanistan, for instance.
A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report on that fiscal year shows the worst offenders were typically from Chad (44.94 percent), Djibouti (37.91 percent), and Mauritania (30.49 percent). In fact, 15 of the 24 countries above 10 percent are in Africa.
But the list also includes Iran at 21.64 percent and Afghanistan at 11.99 percent, as well as Bhutan and Laos.
The DHS report counted more than 422,000 instances of overstays in fiscal year 2019 by business and tourism visitors, including those who came through the Visa Waiver Program and those who did not.
The planned pilot period into June is an effort to discourage overstays and to test a system for collecting the de facto deposits on leaving.
A Trump memorandum in April 2019 ordered U.S. immigration agencies to craft plans to reduce overstays by visitors on B-1 business and B-2 tourism visas, including under the country’s Visa Waiver Program.
“Nonimmigrant visa (visa) overstay rates are unacceptably high for nationals of certain countries,” the memo said.
It also told them to develop enforcement proposals for countries whose overstay rates were above 10 percent.
Consular offices have long been discouraged from imposing such bond obligations as a “cumbersome” burden.
Trump won office in 2016 pledging to sharply curb immigration, and one of his first major battles in the courts after taking office involved a ban on visitors from a handful of mostly Muslim countries.
He has made limits on foreign migrants, asylum seekers, and even visitors from select countries a central part of his four-year term.
Biden’s transition team did not initially respond to a Reuters request for comment on whether it would seek to kill the overstay-prevention program.
Biden has vowed to reverse many of the Trump administration’s policies in areas like foreign relations, climate change and the environment, and immigration, although making such changes could take time.