While border jumpers, particularly those who cross from Mexico to the United States, have gotten considerable media attention, there is another set of immigrants who are receiving additional attention. For many years, virtually the only statistic released to the public from immigration authorities was the number of persons caught along America’s border with Mexico.
 
However, the Department of Homeland Security is scrutinizing those who enter the United States legally, but then decide to overstay the period of time they are allowed to remain in the country. Released on May 22, the report by DHS seeks to enumerate those who overstayed their visas in the fiscal year 2016. It suggests that in addition to the border shared with Mexico, international entryways at airports and seaports also deserve attention. It is only the second time that the report has been published. An estimated 40 percent of the roughly 11 million people in the country illegally stayed past their visas. An excerpt from the report reads:
 
The myriad of information systems and databases used in DHS for visa tracking were not effective in identifying nonimmigrant overstays. Some of these systems and databases were ‘stove-piped’ and did not electronically share information, resulting in numerous inefficiencies. Despite some recent system integration efforts, ICE personnel conducted cumbersome and manual searches across multiple systems for information on in-country overstays. ICE personnel periodically were unsure of which system to use and were hampered by multiple passwords required to maintain system access. Obtaining visa and immigration status on suspected overstays also was difficult due to the unstructured manner in which data were stored.
 
The report shows that by the close of the fiscal year 2016, approximately 630,000 visiting foreigners failed to depart from the country. This number far exceeds the 415,000 persons, mostly from Latin America, who were caught crossing into the US from Mexico during the same period. DHS reported that it was Canadian nationals, not Mexicans or other Latin Americans, who comprised the largest group of those violating the terms of their visas. The agency stated that approximately 120,000 Canadians are living in the U.S. despite having expired visas, as opposed to the roughly 47,000 Mexicans for the same period.
 
Overstays accounted for 1.5 percent of the 50.4 million visitors who arrived by plane or ship in the latest period reported. Canada occupied the top slot for overstays among business travelers and tourists, followed by Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela and the United Kingdom. Germany, Colombia, China, India, and Italy rounded out the top 10. Students and foreign exchange visitors showed a high rate of overstaying: 79,818 of 1.5 million, or 5.5 percent, stayed after their visas expired. China had the largest number of student overstays, followed by Saudi Arabia, South Korea, India, and Brazil.
 
Released in January 2016, a similar report showed that there were approximately 480,000 total overstays at the end of the fiscal year 2015. However, that report counted business travelers and tourists but not include students or workers. 
 
The report provided information on those who have stayed past the exact date their visa expired, even by one day. Many of the visitors do eventually go home. Of the more than 50 million foreign visitors who were required to leave the country in the fiscal year 2016, about 740,000 stayed after their visa expired, which is more than the population of Alaska. However, by the end of the year, about 110,000 had left. By the close of January 2017, another 84,000 left the country, thus reducing the number of overstays to less than 550,000.
 
The numbers shown in the report may be underestimated because they only include travelers who entered and left the country by plane or boat. Therefore, many Canadians and Mexicans were not incorporated in the count simply because they crossed into the country by land. 
 
The lack of sufficient data may be further proof that US immigration authorities still have difficulty tracking who actually leaves the country. Even though Congress mandated 10 years ago that persons leaving the country must be counted and identified, DHS has only now started on using a biometric system for that purpose. Funding for the technology is expected to cost $100 million per year. 


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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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