US

190,000 West Africans Visit US Each Year [VIDEO]

Neil Munro White House Correspondent

Up to 190,000 West Africans visit the United States each year, according to Department of State travel data.

The large inflow underlines the need for rules barring the entry of visitors who were recently in Ebola-stricken countries, said Jessica Vaughan, policy director for the Center for Immigration Studies, which seeks a reduction in the annual inflow of one million immigrants and 700,000 guest workers.

The total of 190,000 is “an enormous amount of people coming in and out, but the administration is insisting that it would be counterproductive to stop this flow of people,” she said.

So far, Obama has opposed an entry ban, but has announced new screening rules for use in five airports that accept flights from overseas. But the rules are unlikely to detect infections in symptom-free arrivals.

Top officials admit that more infected people will arrive. “We’ve had one case, and I think there may be other cases, and I think we need to recognize that as a nation,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said Thursday.

An Oct. 7 poll of 1,010 adults showed that 58 percent of Americans want a travel ban on visitors from Ebola countries. Only 20 percent oppose the entry ban, according to the poll.

So far, at least 27 House legislators — with three Democrats — have urged a travel ban.

Officials can’t reliably check the health of visitors, so they should bar people who have been in Ebola-stricken countries during the prior 30 days, Vaughan told The Daily Caller Thursday.

Thirty days is enough to ensure that visitors can stay over in another country and prove they’re disease-free, she said.

The disease can be undetectable for up to 21 days before symptoms appear. When symptom-free people arrive at U.S. airports, “you can’t tell by looking at someone or by taking their temperature, if they are carrying the virus, as we learned from the late Mr. [Thomas] Duncan,” she said.

Duncan, a Liberian, arrived in the United States on Sept. 20, and died from Ebola on Wednesday.

The 30-day period would not stop disease-free visa-holders from flying into the United States, she said.

The bar on visitors should be handled by customs officers outside the United States, Vaughan said.

Otherwise, people who fear they have the disease will continue to fly the United States in search of good hospital treatment. When diseased people arrive in the United States, there’s no practical way to send them home, so U.S. officials will have to accept, isolate and treat them, she said.

The trans-Atlantic flow between the 16 countries of West Africa and the United States is much larger than just the number of visiting African tourists, temporary workers and business traveler, she noted.

That’s because the State Department awards tens of thousands of green cards to West Africans each year. In 2013, for example, it awarded 42,000 green cards — which allow people to claim citizenship several years later — to people from West Africa, she said.

The department doesn’t release data about the number of U.S. green card holders or U.S. citizens who travel back and forth between the United States and Africa, she said.

The 16 countries in West Africa include the three countries suffering a current Ebola outbreak, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. At least 3,800 people have died from Ebola in those three countries.

Roughly 13,500 long-lasting visas have been issued to residents of those two countries during the last two years, Vaughan said.

The other West African countries include huge country of Nigeria, which recently suppressed an Ebola outbreak.

Most of the remaining 12 countries are on the coast. They are Benin, Equatorial Guinea, Togo, Ghana, Cape Verde, Gambia, Senegal, The Gambia, Mauritania and Ivory Coast.

The region also includes the land-locked states of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

Follow Neil on Twitter