The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a long-awaited report concerning the number of visitors who overstay their visits to the US. The DHS Press Release notes that the Department has made...
significant progress in identifying overstay rates and efforts to address limitations as a result of the infrastructure of U.S. ports of entry—including airports— that was not built with immigration exit controls in mind.
The report focuses on foreign nationals who enter the US as visitors for business or tourism. Almost 45 million such visitors entered the US in Fiscal Year 2015 (October 1 2014 - Sept 30 2015), with authorized stays also expiring in FY2015. DHS reports that 1.17% of these visitors overstayed, totally 527,127 individuals. However, these overstays did not necessarily remain in the US, and by January 4, 2016, DHS believed that the number of overstays had dropped to 0.9%.
Given the recent changes to the Visa Waiver Program (see this blog posting), it is interesting to note that these entrants had a much lower rate of overstay than others - 0.6% for VWP entrants vs 1.6% for B visa holders.
Full DHS Report here.
The US Department of Homeland Security and State Departments jointly announced a tightening of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) today, January 21, 2016. The announcement follows a law passed by Congress in December to tighten the Visa-Waiver Program. The law was aimed at preventing Europeans who have joined Islamic State and other terrorist groups from entering the U.S.
The following people will no longer be eligible to enter the US without a visa:
The above individuals can still enter the US, but only if they have been granted a visa by a US consulate, following an application and interview process.
Under the new law, the Secretary of Homeland Security may waive these restrictions if he determines that such a waiver is in the law enforcement or national security interests of the United States. Such waivers will be granted only on a case-by-case basis. Example of qualifying exceptions include travel for humanitarian work, journalism, and business reasons.
DHS Press Release
The U.S. Department of State has issued a detailed travel warning regarding travel to Mexico. The full text of the warning is below.
The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens about the risk of traveling to certain places in Mexico due to threats to safety and security posed by organized criminal groups in the country. U.S. citizens have been the victims of violent crimes, such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery by organized criminal groups in various Mexican states. For information on security conditions in specific regions of Mexico, which can vary, travelers should reference the state-by-state assessments further below. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning for Mexico, issued May 5, 2015, to update information about the security situation and to advise the public of additional restrictions on the travel of U.S. government (USG) personnel.
General Conditions: Millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year for study, tourism, and business, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day. The Mexican government dedicates substantial resources to protect visitors to major tourist destinations, and there is no evidence that organized criminal groups have targeted U.S. visitors or residents based on their nationality. Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime that are reported in the border region or in areas along major trafficking routes.
Nevertheless, U.S. travelers should be aware that the Mexican government has been engaged in an extensive effort to counter organized criminal groups that engage in narcotics trafficking and other unlawful activities throughout Mexico. Crime and violence are serious problems and can occur anywhere, and U.S. citizens have fallen victim to criminal activity, including homicide, gun battles, kidnapping, carjacking, and highway robbery. While many of those killed in organized crime-related violence have themselves been involved in criminal activity, innocent persons have also been killed. The number of U.S. citizens reported to the Department of State as murdered in Mexico was 81 in 2013 and 100 in 2014.
Gun battles between rival criminal organizations or with Mexican authorities have taken place in towns and cities in many parts of Mexico and have occurred in broad daylight on streets and in other public venues, such as restaurants and clubs. During some of these incidents, U.S. citizens have been temporarily prevented from leaving the area. Criminal organizations have used stolen cars, buses, and trucks to create roadblocks on major thoroughfares, preventing the military and police from responding to criminal activity. The location and timing of future armed engagements is unpredictable. We recommend that you defer travel to the areas specifically identified in this Travel Warning and exercise extreme caution when traveling throughout the other areas for which advisories are in effect.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to lower their personal profiles and to avoid displaying indicators of wealth such as expensive-looking jewelry, watches, or cameras. U.S. citizens are encouraged to maintain awareness of their surroundings and avoid situations in which they may be isolated or stand out as potential victims.
Kidnappings in Mexico have included traditional, "express," and "virtual" kidnappings. Victims of traditional kidnappings are physically abducted and held captive until a ransom is paid for release. "Express" kidnappings are those in which a victim is abducted for a short time and forced to withdraw money, usually from an ATM, then released. A "virtual" kidnapping is an extortion-by-deception scheme wherein a victim is contacted by phone and convinced to isolate themselves from family and friends until a ransom is paid. The victim is coerced (by threat of violence) to remain isolated and to provide phone numbers for the victim's family or loved ones. The victim's family is then contacted and a ransom for the "kidnapped" extracted. Recently, some travelers to Mexico staying at hotels as guests have been targets of such "virtual" kidnapping schemes.
Of particular safety concern are casinos, sports books, or other gambling establishments, and adult entertainment establishments. U.S. government personnel are specifically prohibited from patronizing these establishments in the states of Coahuila, Durango, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosi, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Jalisco, Colima and Nayarit.
Carjacking and highway robbery are serious problems in many parts of the border region, and U.S. citizens have been murdered in such incidents. Most victims who complied with carjackers' demands have reported that they were not physically harmed. Carjackers have shot at vehicles that have attempted to flee. Incidents have occurred during the day and at night, and carjackers have used a variety of techniques, including roadblocks, bumping/moving vehicles to force them to stop, and running vehicles off the road at high speeds. There are indications that criminals target newer and larger vehicles, especially dark-colored SUVs. However, even drivers of old sedans and buses coming from the United States have been targeted. While violent incidents can occur anywhere and at any time, they most frequently occur at night and on isolated roads. To reduce risk when traveling by road, we strongly urge you to travel between cities throughout Mexico only during daylight hours, to avoid isolated roads, and to use toll roads ("cuotas") whenever possible. U.S. government personnel are prohibited from intercity travel after dark in many areas of Mexico. In remote areas, cell phone coverage is limited or non-existent.
The Mexican government has deployed federal police and military personnel throughout the country as part of its efforts to combat organized criminal groups. U.S. citizens traveling on Mexican roads and highways by car or bus may encounter government checkpoints, staffed by military or law enforcement personnel. In some places, criminal organizations have erected their own unauthorized checkpoints, at times wearing police and military uniforms, and have killed or abducted motorists who have failed to stop at them. You should cooperate at all checkpoints.
Demonstrations are common and occur in all parts of the country. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. Protesters in Mexico may block traffic on roads, including major thoroughfares, or take control of toll booths on highways. Protestors may also block access to gas stations, and their presence at airports may cause flights to be delayed or suspended. U.S. citizens are urged to avoid areas of demonstrations, and to exercise caution if in the vicinity of any protests. Travelers who encounter protestors demanding unofficial tolls are generally allowed to pass upon payment. Travelers are urged not to exit from major highways. U.S. Citizens should avoid participating in demonstrations and other activities that might be deemed political by the authorities as the Mexican Constitution prohibits political activities by foreigners; such actions may result in detention, imprisonment, and/or deportation.
The Department imposes restrictions on U.S. government employees' travel in Mexico. Since July 2010, USG employees are prohibited from driving on non-official travel from the U.S.-Mexico border to or from the interior of Mexico or Central America. Personal travel by motor vehicle is permitted during daylight hours on Highway 15 toll road between Hermosillo and Nogales, on Highway 45 between Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua City, and on the main roads between Palomas, Chihuahua and Nuevo Casas Grandes, Chihuahua.
U.S. government personnel and their families are prohibited from personal travel to all areas to which it is advised to "defer non-essential travel.” When travel for official purposes is essential, it is conducted with extensive security precautions. U.S. government personnel and their families are allowed to travel for personal reasons to the areas where no advisory is in effect or where the advisory is to exercise caution. While the general public is not forbidden from visiting places categorized under "defer non-essential travel," U.S. government personnel will not be able to respond quickly to an emergency situation in those areas due to security precautions that must be taken by U.S. government personnel to travel to those areas. Travel at night is prohibited for U.S. government personnel in some states as indicated below.
For more information on road safety and crime along Mexico's roadways, see the Department of State's Country Specific Information.
Below is a state-by-state assessment of security conditions throughout Mexico. Travelers should be mindful that even if no advisories are in effect for a given state, crime and violence can still occur. For general information about travel and other conditions in Mexico, see our Country Specific Information.
Aguascalientes: Intercity travel at night is prohibited for U.S. government personnel.
Baja California: Tijuana, Rosarito, Ensenada and Mexicali are major cities/travel destinations in the state of Baja California - Exercise caution in the northern state of Baja California, particularly at night. According to the Baja State Secretariat for Public Security, Tijuana and Rosarito continued to experience an increase in homicide rates from January to October 2015compared to the same period in the previous year. While most of these homicides appeared to be targeted criminal organization assassinations, turf battles between criminal groups have resulted in violent crime in areas frequented by U.S. citizens. Shooting incidents, in which innocent bystanders have been injured, have occurred during daylight hours.
Baja California Sur: Cabo San Lucas and La Paz are major cities/travel destinations in the state of Southern Baja California – Exercise caution in the state capital of La Paz. According to the Department of Interior of Mexico, Baja California Sur registered its highest homicide rate ever as of October 2015. Many of these homicides have occurred in La Paz, where there has been an increase in public acts of violence between rival criminal organizations.
Campeche: No advisory is in effect.
Chiapas: Palenque and San Cristobal de las Casas are major cities/travel destinations in Chiapas - No advisory is in effect.
Chihuahua: Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua City, and Copper Canyon are major cities/travel destinations in Chihuahua - Exercise caution in traveling to: the business and shopping districts in the northeast section of Ciudad Juarez and its major industrial parks, the central downtown section and major industrial parks in the city of Chihuahua, the town of Palomas, the urban area of the city of Ojinaga, and the towns of Nuevo Casas Grandes and Casas Grandes and their immediate environs. Travel to the Nuevo Casas Grandes area should be through the Palomas port of entry (POE) on U.S. Highway 11, continuing south until reaching Mexico Highway 2 west to Nuevo Casas Grandes. Travel to Ojinaga should be on the U.S. side via U.S. Highway 67 through the Presidio POE. Defer non-essential travel to other areas in the state of Chihuahua and travel between cities only on major highways and only during daylight hours. Crime and violence remain serious problems throughout the state of Chihuahua, particularly in the southern portion of the state and in the Sierra Mountains, including Copper Canyon.
Coahuila: Defer non-essential travel to the state of Coahuila. When traveling through the state, U.S. government personnel are allowed to travel only on toll highway 40 to highway 57 and only during daylight hours. Violence and criminal activity along the highways are continuing security concerns, particularly along the northern border between Piedras Negras and Nuevo Laredo. Please see above for general conditions for travel in Mexico.
Colima: Manzanillo is a major city/travel destination in Colima - Defer non-essential travel to the areas of the state of Colima that border the state of Michoacán, including the city of Tecoman. U.S. government personnel are generally prohibited from traveling within 12 miles of the Colima-Michoacán border. Intercity travel at night is prohibited for U.S. government personnel.
Durango: Exercise caution in the state of Durango. Violence and criminal activity along the highways are a continuing security concern. U.S. government personnel may travel outside the city of Durango only during daylight hours on toll roads and must be in their hotel in the city of Durango to abide by an Embassy-imposed curfew of 1 a.m. to 6 a.m.
Estado de Mexico: Toluca and Teotihuacan are major travel destinations in Estado de Mexico - Exercise caution in the State of Mexico. Due to high rates of crime and insecurity, defer non-essential travel to the municipalities of Coacalco, Ecatepec, Nezahualcoyotl, La Paz, Valle del Chalco, Solidaridad, Chalco, Ixtapaluca, and Tlatlaya, which are portions of the greater Mexico City metropolitan area, located just to the east of the Federal District of Mexico and Benito Juarez airport, unless traveling directly through the areas on major thoroughfares. Defer non-essential travel on any roads between Huitzilac, Morelos and Santa Martha, Estado de Mexico, including the Lagunas de Zempoala National Park and surrounding areas. Please see above for general conditions for travel in Mexico.
Guanajuato: San Miguel de Allende and Leon are major cities/travel destinations in Guanajuato - No advisory is in effect.
Guerrero: Acapulco, Ixtapa, Taxco and Zihuatanejo are major cities/travel destinations in Guerrero - Defer non-essential travel to all parts of the state, except for the cities of Acapulco, Ixtapa, and Zihuatanejo. Travel to Acapulco and Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo only by air or cruise ship, exercise caution, and remain in tourist areas. Travel in and out of Acapulco by air and cruise ship is permitted for U.S. government personnel. U.S. government personnel are prohibited from traveling within Guerrero state by land, including via the 95D toll road (“cuota”) to/from Mexico City and Acapulco, as well as highway 200 between Acapulco and Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo. In Acapulco, defer non-essential travel to areas further than two blocks inland of the Costera Miguel Aleman Boulevard, which parallels the popular beach areas. Lodging for U.S. government personnel is limited to the hotel zone (“zona hotelera”) of Acapulco, beginning from the Krystal Beach Acapulco hotel in the north and going south through Puerto Marquez, including the Playa Diamante area and ending at The Resort at Mundo Imperial hotel. In general, the popular tourist area of Diamante, just south of the city, has been less affected by violence. Any activity outside the hotel zone for U.S. government personnel is limited to the coastal area from La Quebrada to the beginning of the hotel zone and only during daylight hours. The state of Guerrero was the most violent state in Mexico in 2013, with 2,087 homicides and 207 reported cases of kidnapping, according to the Mexican Secretariado Ejecutivo Nacional de Seguridad Publica. Self-defense groups operate independently of the government in many areas of Guerrero. Armed members of these groups frequently maintain roadblocks and, although not considered hostile to foreigners or tourists, are suspicious of outsiders and should be considered volatile and unpredictable.
Hidalgo: No advisory is in effect.
Jalisco: Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, and Lake Chapala are major cities/travel destinations in Jalisco – Exercise caution throughout the state, particularly in rural areas and when using secondary highways. Defer non-essential travel to areas of the state that border the states of Michoacán and Zacatecas. The security situation along the Michoacán and Zacatecas borders continues to be unstable. U.S. government personnel are authorized to use Federal toll road 15D for travel to Mexico City; however, they may not stop in the town of La Barca or Ocotlan for any reason. Use of Highway 80 between Cocula and La Huerta is prohibited for personal travel by U.S. government personnel. U.S. government personnel are prohibited from personal travel to areas of Jalisco that border Zacatecas, and are prohibited from intercity travel at night. Please see above for general conditions for travel to Mexico.
Mexico City (also known as the Federal District): No advisory is in effect. See also the discussion in the section on Estado de Mexico for areas within the greater Mexico City metropolitan area.
Michoacán: Morelia is a major city/travel destination in Michoacán - Defer non-essential travel to the state of Michoacán except the cities of Morelia and Lázaro Cardenas, and the area north of federal toll road 15D, where you should exercise caution. U.S. government employees are prohibited from traveling by land in Michoacán except on federal toll road 15D during daylight hours. Flying into Morelia and Lázaro Cardenas is permitted for U.S. government personnel. Please see above for general conditions for travel in Mexico.
Morelos: Cuernavaca is a major city/travel destination in Morelos - Exercise caution in the state of Morelos. Defer non-essential travel on any roads between Huitzilac in the northwest corner of the state and Santa Marta, Estado de Mexico, including the Lagunas de Zempoala National Park and surrounding areas. Please see above for general conditions for travel in Mexico.
Nayarit: The Riviera Nayarit coast, including the cities of Tepic, Xalisco, and San Blas, is a major travel destination in Nayarit - U.S. government personnel may travel to Riviera Nayarit, San Blas, Santa María del Oro, Tepic, and Xalisco using major highways. Intercity travel at night is prohibited for U.S. government personnel. Defer non-essential travel to other areas of the state.
Nuevo Leon: Monterrey is a major city/travel destination in Nuevo Leon – Exercise caution in the state of Nuevo Leon. U.S. government personnel and their dependents may travel outside the city of Monterrey only during daylight hours on toll roads, and must return to the city of San Pedro Garza Garcia municipal boundaries to abide by a curfew of 1 a.m. and 6 a.m., except for travel to the airport after 5 a.m. Please see above for general conditions for travel in Mexico.
Oaxaca: Oaxaca, Huatulco and Puerto Escondido are major cities/travel destinations in Oaxaca - In Oaxaca city, U.S. citizens should avoid hiking around the auditorium and observatory at Cerro del Fortin, as foreigners are routinely held up at knifepoint and robbed in that area.
Puebla: No advisory is in effect.
Queretaro: No advisory is in effect.
Quintana Roo: Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya and Tulum are major cities/travel destinations in Quintana Roo - No advisory is in effect. Exercise caution when traveling south of Felipe Carrillo Puerto or east of Jose Maria Morelos as cellular and internet service are virtually non-existent.
San Luis Potosi: Exercise caution in the state of San Luis Potosi. U.S. government personnel may travel outside the city of San Luis Potosi only during daylight hours on toll roads, and must be in their hotel in the city of San Luis Potosi between 1 a.m. to 6 a.m.to abide by an Embassy-imposed curfew.
Sinaloa: Mazatlan is a major city/travel destination in Sinaloa - Defer non-essential travel to the state of Sinaloa except the cities of Mazatlan, Los Mochis, and the Port of Topolobampo, where you should exercise caution. One of Mexico's most powerful criminal organizations is based in the state of Sinaloa, and violent crime rates remain high in many parts of the state. Travel in Mazatlan should be limited to Zona Dorada and the historic town center, as well as direct routes to and from these locations and the airport. Travel in Los Mochis and Topolobampo is restricted to the city and the port, as well as direct routes to/from these locations and the airport. Please see above for general conditions for travel in Mexico.
Sonora: Nogales, Puerto Peñasco, Hermosillo, and San Carlos are major cities/travel destinations in Sonora - Sonora is a key region in the international drug and human trafficking trades and can be extremely dangerous for travelers. Travelers throughout Sonora are encouraged to limit travel to main roads during daylight hours. Defer non-essential travel to the region west of Nogales, east of Sonoyta, and from Caborca north (including the towns of Saric, Tubutama, and Altar), and the eastern edge of Sonora bordering Chihuahua, as these are known centers of illegal activity. Travelers should also defer non-essential travel to the eastern edge of the state of Sonora, which borders the state of Chihuahua (all points along that border east of the northern city of Agua Prieta and the southern town of Alamos), and defer non-essential travel within the city of Ciudad Obregon and south of the city of Navojoa. You should exercise caution while transiting Vicam in southern Sonora due to roadblocks that can be instituted ad hoc by local indigenous and environmental groups. U.S. citizens visiting Puerto Peñasco should use the Lukeville, Arizona/Sonoyta, Sonora border crossing, and limit driving to daylight hours. Please see above for general conditions for travel in Mexico.
Tabasco: Villahermosa is a major city/travel destination in Tabasco- No advisory is in effect.
Tamaulipas: Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, and Tampico are major cities in Tamaulipas. Defer all non-essential travel to the state of Tamaulipas. Throughout the state violent crime, including homicide, armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, extortion, and sexual assault, pose significant safety risks. State and municipal law enforcement capacity is limited to nonexistent in many parts of Tamaulipas. Violent conflicts between rival criminal elements and/or the Mexican military can occur in all parts of the region and at all times of the day. Violent criminal activity occurs more frequently along the northern border. Organized criminal groups sometimes target public and private passenger buses traveling through Tamaulipas. These groups sometimes take all passengers hostage and demand ransom payments. In Tamaulipas, U.S. government employees are subject to movement restrictions and a curfew between midnight and 6 a.m. Matamoros, Reynosa, Nuevo Laredo, and Ciudad Victoria have experienced numerous gun battles and attacks with explosive devices in the past year. The number of reported kidnappings in Tamaulipas is among the highest in Mexico.Please see above for general conditions for travel in Mexico.
Tlaxcala: No advisory is in effect.
Veracruz: No advisory is in effect.
Yucatan: Merida and Chichen Itza are major cities/travel destinations in Yucatan - Exercise caution in the state of Zacatecas. U.S. government personnel may travel outside the city of Zacatecas only during daylight hours on toll roads. In the city of Zacatecas, U.S. government personnel must abide by an Embassy-imposed curfew of 1 a.m. to 6 a.m.
Zacatecas: Exercise caution in the state of Zacatecas. Robberies, carjackings, and organized criminal activity remain a concern. U.S. government personnel may travel outside the city of Zacatecas only during daylight hours on toll roads, and must return to the city of Zacatecas to abide by a curfew of 1 a.m. to 6 a.m.
For further information:
US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has issued an alert reminding customers of a recent fee increase. The increase affects some H-1B and L-1 petitions, and took effect on December 18, 2015.
The fees affect employer petitioners with 50 or more employees in the United States, when over 50% of those employees are in H-1B or L nonimmigrant status. Affected H-1B petitioners must now pay $4000 (up from $2000) and L-1 employers pay $4,500 (up from $2250). This means that some H-1B petitions could have a combined total of $7,550 in filing fees if Premium Processing is used.
USCIS has advised that it is revising the Form I-129 to reflect the changes. Petitioners who file before the new forms are released may get a Request for Evidence from USCIS to determine whether the new fee applies.
Elaine Martin has been practising US and global immigration law since 1997. She is an immigrant herself (from Ireland), so has a special understanding of the legal and emotional challenges involved in relocating to a new country.