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Visitors On Visa Waiver Not As Welcome In San Diego

Audio

Aired 3/31/11

Visitors from industrialized countries are allowed to stay three months--and often significantly longer--in the U.S. under the Visa Waiver program. But San Diego officials are changing the custom.

— If you come to the United States with a passport from a European country or Japan, you can stay here for 90 days, and can commonly overstay without a problem.

But not in San Diego anymore. In the last year, a growing number of visitors on what's known as a Visa Waiver here have been asked to leave after 90 days by local immigration authorities.

Lawyer Jacob Sapochnick observes that San Diego seems to be taking this initiative on its own, despite federal directives.

"Maybe they're tired of all the people overstaying, and people illegally coming to the U.S.," said Sapochnick, trying to find a reason for the shift in practices. "Maybe they have decided to take the only initiative, and using that discretion that they have, and deny those cases."

Immigration attorney Jonathan Montag, also from San Diego, says the move by the local office of USCIS has wider implications. "The issue is not that overstays are being deported," he says. "It is that their becoming permanent residents through marriage to citizens is being denied and that these denials seem unique to the San Diego USCIS district."

About 150,000 visitors from 34 countries use the Visa Waiver each year. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) did not respond to an interview request.

"The problem with a Visa Waiver is that when the visitors come to the U.S., in a way, they don't have a visa, they have the privilege to come," said Sapochnick. "So they sign off on any rights to appear before a judge."

Visa waiver overstays had been going on for years in San Diego.

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