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C.3.  Immigration records and entry/departure cards

9.22.            In most countries, immigration records and entry/departure cards  are a valuable source of information on the movement of persons across borders, even as the increasing mobility of persons and the facilitation of free movement of persons across borders, in some parts of the world or under certain circumstances (e.g., in the case of the Schengen area) is changing that situation.

9.23.            Migration statistics usually distinguish among visitors, other individuals travelling abroad for short terms and migrants, where migrants are defined as long-term if they are staying in the country for a period longer than 12 months and short-term if they are staying for more than 3 months but less than 12. The different categories are defined  in Recommendations on Statistics of International Migration (RSIM), revision 1 (1998).[1]  Visitors are further described in IRTS 2008.

9.24.            For compiling services transactions between residents and non-residents, the categories of visitors and short-term migrants are of interest, in particular when used in a data model. For the breakdown of travel, it is important to distinguish purposes that are employment related (i.e., where there is an employer-employee relationship in the country to which the person is travelling) from those relating to business trips (i.e., no employer-employee relationship in the country visited, e.g., attending meetings or conferences, consultancy, short-term posting of workers abroad by their employer).[2] For the former, the expenditure would be recorded under “travel, business, acquisition of goods and services by border, seasonal and other short-term workers” and the latter under “travel, business, other”. This type of distinction is also important when it comes to compiling data on the number of mode 4 persons (see table V.3 in MSITS 2010) as well as of mode 2 number of persons, which is further described in chapter 16.

9.25.            Some common examples of the categories covered by migration statistics and their relationship to travel and tourism statistics are presented in box 9.1. However, it should be highlighted that immigration records or entry/departure cards have been put in place for purposes other than to measure trade in services. Records of such administrative procedures should, therefore, be carefully evaluated on a country-specific basis to understand the degree to which they could be useful. That exercise might even lead to the adaptation of the administrative records for improved measurement of trade in services, as well as tourism. Such adaptations are more likely if it can be demonstrated that they lead to improvements in the procedures used by the agency responsible for the registration and/or monitoring of the movement of persons across borders.

9.26.            Immigration records contain information provided by travellers when they apply for visas, as well as passport information recorded at the time of border crossing. Entry/departure records contain information provided by the traveller to immigration authorities when crossing the country border. The information available from those two sources, and reconciled by the immigration authorities, is often the basic source for establishing the flows of inbound and outbound visitors. The entry/departure cards usually collect information[3] on a census basis on name, sex, age, nationality, current address, date of arrival (and/or departure), purpose of trip, main destination visited and length of stay.

9.27.             Usually, immigration authorities provide data on the basis of arrivals, in which case, for inbound travellers, the collected data refer to the expected length of stay. Some countries reconcile entry and departure cards by matching their identification numbers in order to establish the actual length of stay.[4] Some difficulties might arise in such an operation owing to unmatched cards as a consequence of errors in the process (e.g., lost cards or errors in the capture of the data), a lack of coordination in recording authorizations of a change in status, or a change in expected stays (illegal immigrants who entered as tourists are also a possible source of discrepancy). However, notwithstanding the challenges and limitations, compilers should make the greatest possible use of them for compiling statistics on the international supply of services.

9.28.            Immigration records and entry/departure cards can be combined with information on patterns of expenditure and compensation of employees to develop a data model for estimating travel services by multiplying the actual number of trips of short-term travellers and the estimate of per capita expenditure from surveys of actual expenditure. Preliminary estimates for a specific period can make use of data on the expected length of stay and anticipated expenditure.

9.29.            Immigration records and entry/departure cards can be an important source of information on mode 2 movements of persons, as such persons may constitute a large proportion of those recorded in those sources. However, entry/departure cards are not seen as a sufficient source for mode 4 movement of people, as the cards are meant to collect data for immigration control purposes, not to identify natural persons crossing the border to supply a service. Mode 4 types of movements represent only a very small proportion of the total entries and departures registered by entry/departure cards. Moreover, the identification of mode 4 persons is not an issue for the compilation of tourism statistics, as such persons are part of the visitor population, regardless of the fact they are travelling in order to provide a service.

9.30.            The use of entry/departure cards requires statistical compilers to have a clear understanding of their coverage and content, most importantly:

(a) What is the geographic coverage of entry/departure data? The coverage must be clearly stated to assess how representative the cards are for the full population of persons crossing borders. It is, for example, important to know if entry/departure cards are used at all border crossing points, or if their use is restricted in some way (e.g., they cover air passengers only, or apply to other types of arrival such as by sea, land or river). This is particularly relevant for countries with long and open international land borders or borders delimited by rivers, where geography makes crossing the border easy or where border controls are sometimes absent at crossings. Border control authorities will usually estimate crossings beyond their present control procedures, but that estimate might need to be permanently monitored to detect changes over time;

(b) What categories of person are covered?  Are there specific conditions that exclude certain persons from border controls, in addition to those represented by the non-controlled crossing points (e.g., nomads, refugees, border workers, etc.)? In many countries, nationals are often exempted from border controls or detailed reporting requirements. Frequent border crossers may have special permits, may not be registered for each crossing, may be excluded from the controls altogether or may be covered only by a global estimate. Finally, certain types of border crossings might be subject to less cumbersome procedures (for instance, private airports, or land borders used by nationals of neighbouring countries);

(c) What is the actual content of the data? Access to detailed microdata should be ensured to allow for corrections and controls. In general,  compilers should not expect border control operations to provide all the information needed to measure movement of persons across borders and to provide all the required variables and types of distinctions that would be needed for description and analysis. A recurring example is that many entry/departure cards do not request the residence of the respondent, only the nationality. Additionally, not all controls in a given country will be the same at all border points, nor will they contain the same questions (e.g., questions at land borders might be kept to a minimum, because of the time constraint);

(d) The quality of the data collected must be assessed. There are various repeated inconsistencies in information taken from administrative sources that stem from their specific functions. The main interest of border authorities, for instance, is controlling the flows of non-nationals and, as a consequence, other data (e.g., a national’s country of residence, origin or destination, which is often different from the origin or destination of the flight, and the purpose of trip in detail) are of less interest to them and are not always adequately collected or stored. The concern of border control authorities is that the declared purpose be consistent with the type of traveller’s visa or resident permit presented, which may induce travellers to declare a purpose in line with their visa (e.g., recreation instead of convention/conference, or seeking business opportunities). Revisions, checks and controls are needed to make entry/departure card information usable for purposes other than migration.

9.31.        UNWTO has proposed that entry/departure cards include a number of variables for the measurement of traveller flows useful for tourism statistics as well as for modes 2 and 4,[5] such as date of entry/departure, gender, age, place of birth, nationality, country of residence, port of entry, mode of transport, length of stay and purpose of the visit. In particular, if further differentiation of the business purpose were recorded on the card, such as  the difference between intracorporate transfer or employment by a local business, then that information could be used to identify mode 4 movements. The full list of proposed variables on entry/departure cards can be found in the online version of the present Guide.

9.32.        In countries that require a temporary work visa for mode 4, at least for citizens of some countries, administrative records from the visa issuing department (usually the ministry of immigration) may be a more reliable source of information than the entry/departure card. If there is no requirement for a specific visa (for instance, for the duration of the stay or its repetition), the proposed entry/departure card might not always enable the identification of mode 4, unless the “purpose of trip/visit” is requested. It should be noted, however, that the declared purpose of trip may be influenced by the type of visa/permit that has been issued and may not accurately reflect the reality.  Business visas can be directly identified using immigration data, however. Moreover, it is usually recommended that entry/departure cards identify the different subsets of travellers,  such as visitors as defined in tourism statistics, through indirect observation of derived characteristics.[6]

9.33.        Regarding mode 4, it should also be noted that the interest might not be in the total number of trips, but in the combination of the number of persons, the number of trips taken by those persons, the duration of each trip and the total duration of travel per person. The entry/departure card could provide information on the repetition of trips only if the persons are uniquely identified by the entry/departure card and the registrations at different border crossing points are stored in the same database.


Next: C.4. Work permits


[1] Recommendations on Statistics of International Migration, revision 1 (RSIM rev.1), Statistical Papers, Series M, No. 58/rev.1 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.98.XVII.14). Available from

[2] See box V.2 MSITS 2010 for further discussion on the identification of the employer-employee relationship.

[3] See World Tourism Organization, Tourism as an International Traded Service: A Guide for Measuring Arrivals and Associated Expenditures of Non-residents (Madrid, 2005), on the results of a survey of country practices in the use of entry/departure cards, available from

[4] For example, the Australian Bureau of Statistics compares the actual length of stay to the expected length of stay on the entry card, which allows for calculation of a "realization ratio" so that the number of visitors expecting to stay more (or less) than a year can be adjusted at the time of arrival to allow for an estimate of those who will actually stay for the amount of time they expected. 

[5] MSITS 2010 sets out the framework to define mode 4 in the context of the existing tourism and migration statistical recommendations. Statistical compilers should review that framework and, in particular, table V.3 in MSITS 2010, which presents the links between the coverage of RSIM rev.1 and that of IRTS 2008 in terms of purpose of trip or migration and length of stay:  identifying categories of interest for GATS mode 4.

[6] See Tourism as an International Traded Service”, para. 2.45.