New Executive Order Demands Immigration Checks When You Leave the US, Not Just When You Arrive

The Trump administration executive order on immigration has most widely been reported to temporarily ban visas for people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — even for those who have been living in the U.S. in valid employment or student status but who need new visas for re-entry.

What’s getting less attention is section 7 of the order that demands immigration controls when you leave the U.S. not just when you arrive.

  • In most countries you go through immigration not just when you arrive, but when you leave too.

  • In the US there are no ‘exit controls.’ When you go to the airport you get off a connecting flight and right onto your international flight, no more security and no immigration. Domestic and international flights leave from the same terminal.

  • The US already gets advance passenger manifests, they know who is leaving. This adds physical checks of each individual passenger on the way out.

Copyright: prestonia / 123RF Stock Photo

Here’s the text of section 7 of this executive order:

Sec. 7. Expedited Completion of the Biometric Entry-Exit Tracking System. (a) The Secretary of Homeland Security shall expedite the completion and implementation of a biometric entry-exit tracking system for all travelers to the United States, as recommended by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

(b) The Secretary of Homeland Security shall submit to the President periodic reports on the progress of the directive contained in subsection (a) of this section. The initial report shall be submitted within 100 days of the date of this order, a second report shall be submitted within 200 days of the date of this order, and a third report shall be submitted within 365 days of the date of this order. Further, the Secretary shall submit a report every 180 days thereafter until the system is fully deployed and operational.

Trump can insist on this by executive order because the law already allows for it and has for 21 years. It hasn’t happened largely because of how expensive and impractical it is.

Most cost estimates (suggesting under a billion dollars) involve the acquisition of biometric scanners and additional federal staffing, but not the physical renovation of every international airport that would be necessary.

Right now there’s no structural channel that travelers are forced to go through. Passengers would have to be forcibly routed through departure immigration. There would have to be a physical separation between domestic and international flights.

One way to do this would be to require what are effectively separate domestic and international piers, in some cases passengers might have to depart security and re-enter the airport. In other cases there might be an immigration transfer check between piers. So there’s construction costs and staffing costs, and it would increase the hassle and time necessary at the airport including increasing minimum connection times between flights — a tax on airlines.

The Obama administration was working on a similar plan. I reported on immigration exit control tests two years ago, with a goal of implementing nationwide in airports by 2020. The tests explicitly recongized the huge costs involved — other countries designed their airports with such a system in mind, here everything would need to be retrofit — so one experiment involves staff with mobile biometric scanners. They’ve worked on facial recognition to compare people to their passports (beyond just eyeballing photos). And they’ve also recognized priority for Global Entry passengers.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. this is a smart move by President Trump. we now have better understanding of who is over staying their visa.
    it’s about time we go after these illegal parasites.
    God bless President Trump. he may turn out to be the best president since Andrew Jackson.

  2. @steven k
    Andrew Jackson, the one who gave us the Indian Removal Act? Sure. Go, manifest destiny!

  3. @ Steven k, what a shame you forgot to get an education. For that matter, any sense of decency, compassion or a soul.

    This country will be irrevocably damaged by Trump. It’s reputation and image is already in the toilet and that’s week 1.

    Despicable man, despicable policies and a disgrace to humanity. And he is your hero Steven k… congrats, you are the pits.

  4. It seems to me that this should not be nearly as complicated as you imagine. Inbound security is always about identifying the persons presenting themselves and checking that they are allowed in. Outbound only needs to match the person departing either with the passport (if a US citizen), or with the passport and arrival data (if a foreign citizen). All of the relevant data should already be on the system and, for the great majority of people, there should be no discrepancies – remember the APIS system will already have captured the basic information, so it’s just necessary to check biometrics to make sure that the person matches the passport. I cannot see why this can’t be done at mobile kiosks at the gate. Indeed, this would be the only way since doing it at the entrance to an international pier creates the problem of the person disappearing before boarding the flight.

    Having said that, knowing the way the DHS and the TSA operate, they will no doubt make a mountain out of this particular molehill. And so much for reducing government expenditure.

  5. @NB, I am pretty sure that your solution would already make this molehill a mountain. DHS would have to have personnel at every international departing gate for approximately one million international flight departures each year, handling just over two hundred million passengers. That would not come cheap.
    Theoretically at least, people cannot just “disappear’ once they have entered an international terminal, there is no place to go, except onto a plane or back out the way you came. It would be exactly the same as arriving to an international arrival terminal (which seems like the easy way to deal with this as both arrival and departures could be in the same terminal). It would require some relatively minor modifications, I would think, but the real cost will be in the personnel required to handle this as it would pretty much require a doubling of the front line DHS personnel. Putting them at every gate would, I would think, require at least twice again that many people

  6. What is the point? If someone overstayed, then why not just let them fly leave on their own………. I guess they might want to capture wanted people, but surely the advanced passenger lists would do the job just as well and at a fraction of the cost.

  7. I’m surprised we never did this from the beginning since virtually every other country has exit controls. Of course it’s going to cost a lot to do it now but it seems to be the surest way to determine who has overstayed their visa.I don’t see it as a partisan matter since, as Gary points out, the Obama Administration was also looking into this.

  8. @Jake Deflect much? Welfare recipients vote 99% democrat.

    @Andy Get off your high horse. Typical lib attitude of a false sense of moral superiority, while your lib policies do nothing but keep poor people poor. You only know anger and outrage, because you truly believe those who disagree with you are evil, when in fact we both want all Americans to succeed…we just disagree on how best to accomplish that. But go on with your protesting, smashing windows, burning cars, etc. The rest of America has tuned out to your antics, we’re moving on.

  9. If you have exit controls at airports, you also have to have them at land borders and seaports. Otherwise, somebody can just walk into Canada to avoid detection.

  10. “Welfare recipients vote 99% democrat.”

    Highly unlikely as there are as many White Americans on SNAP for example as non Whites and 60% of Whites vote Republican in general elections.

    Now, back to the actual article. Hopefully airlines will have time to adjust their schedules. We have a 60 minute connection on our upcoming trip from KDFW to LEMD.

  11. @WR… moral superiority?

    Yes I am superior to an idiot like you voting for a man who mocked the disabled, denigrated a grieving family who lost their son in the name of the US, bragged of sexual assault, is a massive scam artist, a proven liar beyond compare. A man who is already waging war on the downtrodden, the environment and even the constitution on multiple levels. A lot more I could mention obviously and you know it.

    So yeah I’m infinitely superior to you in many ways.


  12. What a mess! Even Trump supporters are shocked at how bad this is. Sad part is if Pres Obama had elected to not go so soft on anyone entering we would not have Trump in the White House. Even if we did these exec orders would not be so vicious. Look for rhetoric to tone down in a few months.

  13. @WR, maybe actually do some research before you quote statistics. Of the top ten states receiving welfare, either 9 or 10 voted republican. For no reason that anyone can understand, a majority of welfare recipients actually vote republican against their own best interest, although it is likely because they want to keep their guns and/or bibles, which nobody is trying to take away from them.

  14. @WR…highest percentage of federal welfare benefits go to red states. Top seven states for benefits all voted for Trump.

  15. ever since i was a child, one thing i noticed about liberals is that they love to lie and twist truth to suit their point of views.
    here are the real facts about SNAP and other welfare programs by race.
    whites : 16.8%
    blacks : 39.6
    hispanics : 21.2

    keep in mind that whites constitute over 70% of our population while blacks are only 12%.

  16. Carsten Varming has it exactly right. This will do nothing to improve security. It is the people coming into the country we need to focus on, not people leaving.

  17. You can’t just ‘walk into Canada” they have border controls too. In fact, they share entry data with the USA so there is already in effect an entry-exit tracking system between the two countries.

    However, you can indeed just walk into Mexico.

  18. In the border crossing from Canada and Mexico it will take maybe more than 4 years to implement something for checking all the people that is leaving USA.

  19. I’m reminded of the clip from Bananas where the dictator orders the official language to be Swedish and underwear to be changed on the half hour

  20. Good one, @Stvr!

    Back to the topic at hand: What horrible problem does this fix, at the cost of delaying, inconveniencing and alienating so many folks, and at considerable cost that will either burden the federal budget or be passed on to the traveling public?

  21. Well if this got implemented than US Airports will have to have sterile transfer zones from Domestic to International so that Emigration can be done at point of departure. This will have the added advantage that the same zones can be used in the reverse direction International to Domestic transfers. So no longer having to take your baggage through customs at the point of arrival. Instead you can transfer to a domestic flight and do immigration/customs at the point of arrival. That would be great for people who live at smaller International Airports like Reno where in theory immigration exists but in practice as no airline flies direct you always have to do immigration in San Francisco.
    There could be positives from this order

  22. @steven k…it’s okay to quote stats to support your point, but it’s pretty disingenuous to say that only liberals twist facts to suit their beliefs. In fact, I’d say that by making that statement you’re twisting the trust to suit your own belief.

  23. This is a great idea. But in reality this cannot work in the US because overseas the airports were originally built with this in mind. I just see this being a massive disaster in practice here.

  24. Anyone who has traveled to Europe, and then come back home, will if they think about it realize that they had to go thru exit controls to do so. When we flew into Hong Kong last Summer, we were given an entry receipt which we were required to submit when leaving.

    And of course, this is not just about “people who have overstayed their visas”. It is also about people who may have committed a crime while here, and have a warrant out for their arrest. Once they get out of the US it becomes very difficult to get them back. Case in point being Roman Polanski who has been a fugitive from US Justice for nearly 40 years.

  25. I see several issues here. One point I have yet to see mentioned is that you will lose many airport amenities if this is implemented. If we need to separate domestic and international, they cannot be in the same lounge, or eat at the same restaurant. Will all the airport lounges build two, keep domestic or keep international or even decide that the number of passengers makes this not worth it. Second issue, if someone overstays and is leaving I think it is far cheaper to let them go. If they think they will go to jail for leaving, they might as well keep being illegal. Finally, one of the reasons most of us love our country is the freedom. If we do not enjoy being here, we can leave. Many other countries you need proof of travel plans and other documentation to go. This leads me to believe that Jessie Ventura was right, the wall will NOT be to keep them out, but to keep US in.

  26. Hillary was 100% right, and at least had the courage to say it. This man and his policies and his supporters are completely deplorable. Ill informed, illogical, and steeped in nothing but fear and ignorance and hatred. No surprise that Iran has already banned us from travelling there and I expect many more will follow. Eight days and we are already embroiled in a trade war and protectionist hysteria. Read your history people. “America First” won’t work and never did. Neither did Germany First or Japan First etc. Are you blind or just completely ignorant of the history of the last century? I only hope that the impeachment comes soon enough before he gets us into a war.

  27. @John – I never understood this. If you’ve overstayed your visa what does a country normally do?

  28. In the Philippines if you overstay you will be fined, perhaps jailed. if you cannot pay the fine. I think the fine starts at about $100. To cover some of the charges, the locals need to pay “Travel Tax” for any international trip. TANSTAAFL, so I am assuming that will be the next step, to charge those of us who leave the USA to cover the additional immigration costs.

  29. It seems to me that next year when a secure ID is required to be issued, there will be no need for this at all. If you really have concerns (and I think this is a waste of time) just have TSA check citizenship status when they do their other checks (assuming they do not do that already) eliminate any ability to fly anywhere without an ID. If we are FORCED to do this waste of time, lets just raise the whole airport to the security needed for International rather than split them. If would be far less costly to just add another line item to the TSA screen, rather than an additional checkpoint.

  30. If arrivals are subject the Immigration controls, then surely departures will be subject to Emigration controls, yes?

  31. While trumpanzee tramples on the Constitution some here are rejoicing. He has attacked our Constitution and the very pillar of our democracy.
    Dictatorship 101:
    The strategy is simple-first you pretend to care, then you pit people against people like Americans are fighting each other now. Throw some bones to the dogs (like yah we care about abortion, christanity, immigration, jews/muslim hate) and then watch them lap over it.At the same time you attack the press so that you can tell people they are evil and then you gag them so that the idiots who voted for you do not get the news about what you are doing. Then you make protest illegal so that no one can object to what you are doing. Then you trample on the opposition and silence them. Once your opposition is gone, you can do what you like. Then you control the Army and viola! You are a dictator. You don’t think this works? Look at Putin and other south african dictators, THIS is exactly how they came into power. Putin has ruled for 25+ years now, all elections are controlled by him. You have created a monster and you will not be able to get rid of him.

  32. From a Canadian perspective this is a very sad state for those of you in the USA. You’re just a little less free. You need to ask permission from a government official to leave your own country. Happily, in Canada, section 6 of the Canadian Charter (constitution) protects us from the kind of captivity:

    6. (1) Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada.

  33. Just b/c other countries have it, does not mean we need exit controls. It’s expensive. It tells us who overstays. I’m not sure why we care who overstays, at least not at a cost of $50B+, as this is likely to cost.

    Then again, I believe in the free movement of people across borders basically without restrictions (ok, security checks are acceptable). I guess not everyone shares that view.

  34. Getting back to the actual point of the article, this will prove absolutely hideous in fact, and outrageously expensive. My home airport is SEA, and I shudder to think of the changes that will be needed to enforce this policy at my very busy domestic/international airport. This will also seriously affect US productivity with major changes in travel time and hassles, even AFTER construction is finished. We’re simply not set up for this and retrofitting, as the author says, will be expensive and painful. Guess who gets to pay for it? Probably our great grandchildren, but we’ll be paying on the debt our whole lives, too.

  35. CoolHandLuke Why?
    The following categories of people leave the country:
    1. US Citizens. Why should they prevented from leaving.
    2. Foreign Citizens who did not overstay/enter illegally. We should make it easy for them to visit and spend money here.
    3. Overstayers and those who should not enter. Why would we not want them to go? Far cheaper to make them leave on their own dime than to detain them. The average cost per prisioner per day is $83. In addition to this the taxpayers may get stuck with the bill for sending them home once they no longer have the money for a ticket. Better to let them go.

  36. The Department of Commerce does not even administer the SNAP program, Agriculture does.

    Easily found on Google with multiple hits:

    According to 2013 data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the program, 40.2 percent of SNAP recipients are white, 25.7 percent are black, 10.3 percent are Hispanic, 2.1 percent are Asian and 1.2 percent are Native American.

  37. @John. Not my idea; agree it’s nuts. Just pointing out that leaving a country is an act of ’emigration’, as opposed to entering, which is ‘immigration’ Most arrivals/departures do not fall into either category, but the terms are used by the powers than be. Of course we all know that Americans play fast and loose with the English language.

  38. The cited section 7 says, “… entry-exit tracking system for all travelers to the United States …”

    It’s for all travelers TO the U.S. Does “entry-exit” really imply all travelers FROM the United States? I’m skeptical. It may just mean the type of system to be used.

  39. @Steve this is implementation of the recommendation in the 9/11 commission report for exit controls for all passengers. See the slide linked above from the most recent experiment, “CBP will perform inbound and outbound biographic data collection on all travelers…” and note that this is distinguished from the biometrics for non-citizens.

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