Of the countries I’ve travelled to, the USA seems fairly unique in not having exit immigration checks or exit stamps on passports. (Thanks commenters for noting some others)

What’s the history behind this? Doesn’t not having exit controls make catching criminals or overstayers so much more difficult? Or following the null hypothesis, why have exit controls in the majority of other countries?

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    Nope it is not. UK is one more example. – Hanky Panky Sep 13 '18 at 17:15
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    @chx: "This hasn't been true for three years now." Those are not the exit checks this question is talking about. They just have carriers provide information about the traveler to the government. The US does this too. The exit checks this question is talking about is a physical interaction with immigration officers where they have to let you pass or not. – user102008 Sep 13 '18 at 17:23
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    The US does have exit controls based on information transmitted by carriers and Canada (see page iii of this summary of the situation). Such exit tracking was mandated by laws beginning in 1996. It's generally useless to arrest an overstayer who's trying to exit the country to force them to exit the country... The key is to not let them come back, which is what data collection does. – user71659 Sep 13 '18 at 17:23
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    @chx .. I hope you are aware of Gayot's demise. – Peter M Sep 13 '18 at 17:55
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    @RoboKaren See travel.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4666/… – Peter M Sep 13 '18 at 17:56

Historically, it hasn't been needed as the US doesn't need to stop people from leaving. Unlike some other countries, the US doesn't fine or imprison overstayers, so there's no reason to stop an overstayer from leaving (the penalty for an overstayer caught in the US is deportation, and if they're leaving they're already doing the same thing) as long as the US knows that they've overstayed so they can take it into account the next time the person comes to the US. (But even if the US doesn't know when exactly a person left, when in doubt, the burden is on the person to prove they left on time.)

And the other main reason is that it's very expensive to implement it now. At land border crossings, implementing exit checks means having to double the manpower and infrastructure at all border crossings (currently there is only facilities on the entering side; they will need to have it on both the entering and leaving side), which is very expensive given the volume of traffic across land borders.

At airports, it also requires re-configuring airports because having exit checks means that there must be an "international waiting area" for people who have passed exit checks that is separate from the domestic waiting area, but many airports currently use the same gates for both domestic and international departures. And it requires finding the space to house the exit checks (whereas right now all departing passengers have to go through is security checks); having to add immigration exit checks in addition to security checks would require a lot more space that might be difficult to find in some airport terminals.

So basically it is a ton of additional cost, for unclear benefit.

  • Even the UK realized savings by eliminating exit checks, simply, I suppose, on labor and recordkeeping. – phoog Sep 13 '18 at 17:56
  • If I remember correctly, most current Schengen members didn't have exit immigration checks until they joined the Schengen area starting from 1995 and onwards. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Sep 13 '18 at 18:32
  • (+1) One additional benefit is making it easier to allow visa-free airport transit for people who would otherwise need a visa. But that benefit doesn't necessarily outweigh the costs, obviously. – Relaxed Sep 13 '18 at 18:48
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    @Relaxed I believe the US used to allow transits without visas in certain circumstances (and a similar program called international-to-international) for people who would otherwise need visas, even without exit checks (the airline was responsible for making sure you didn't wander off, generally by holding your passport and escorting you around). It was completely ended in 2003 due to security concerns. – Zach Lipton Sep 13 '18 at 22:33
  • @ZachLipton Thanks for the details, I did not actually know whether it still existed but I vaguely recalled hearing about this. It was always limited and quite cumbersome, avoiding this is what I meant by “making it easier to allow transit without visa”. – Relaxed Sep 13 '18 at 22:37

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