According to a recently released study by the Department of Homeland Security, approximately 700,000 foreigners over-stayed their visas. Of these, about 600,000 remained in the United States. The majority were from Africa. According to DHS, the other 100,000 eventually left the country after the expiration of their visas. However, the 700,000 count represents just a miniscule percentage of the nearly 53 million people admitted to the United States in fiscal  year 2017. However, that is 300,000 more people than the number of persons detained while attempting to cross illegally into the country along the southwestern border during the same year, thus indicating that visa overstays are a bigger source of illegal immigration than border jumpers.

Temporary visas account for the overwhelming majority of entry permits issued to foreigners every year, as compared to the approximately one million permanent immigrant visas “green cards” issued. In some cases, tourists may stay for six months, while foreigners on student visas (and dependents) may remain for many years. 

The DHS study did not provide the number of how many temporary visa holders are currently in the country, it did provide a rough approximation, which is total number of temporary visa holders expected to depart in FY17. Citizens of EU countries such as Germany and the UK lead the list, along with Japan, China and India. However, the DHS report only counts sea and air arrivals, not individuals entering over land. Therefore, persons from Canada and Mexico are not shown on the DHS tables: most of these enter by land rather than rather than on a plane or boat.

Visa overstayers are well represented by Latin America and Europe. Those from Latin America represent 37 percent of eventual overstayers, while Europeans are 24 percent. Of these regions, United Kingdom, Brazil, Venezuela, and France are among the countries with high numbers of overstayers. However, viewing the data this way fails to give the whole picture. If a large number of people from a given country arrive, then there are bound to be some number of overstayers, but those overstayers might make up only a very small fraction of everyone arriving. Indeed, across all 190 countries in DHS's data, as the number of expected departures rises, so too does the number of overstays.

The total number of overstays divided by the number of people expected to depart in a given year originating from a given country (the overstay rate) overs a different perspective on the phenomenon. While most countries have low visa overstay rates (75 percent have fewer than seven overstays per 100 expected departures), 29 countries have visa overstay rates of 10 percent or higher. In the case of the African nation of Djibouti, the rate is 41 percent. Additionally, most of the countries with overstay rates of 10 percent or higher are in Africa. Afghanistan, Bhutan, Iraq, Laos, and the tiny Pacific islands of Palau, Togo, and the Solomon Islands, join the African nations on that list.

On average, 6 percent of African arrivals overstay, as compared to one to two percent for other regions. Therefore, persons coming from Africa are far more likely to overstay than persons from elsewhere. 

The DHS report identifies the kinds of visas that recipients most frequently violate. Issued by State Department diplomats at embassies and consulates outside of the country, temporary visas include B1 and B2 visas for business and tourism that cover up to six months temporary presence for business or pleasure. F, M, or J visas cover a student or exchange visitor's period of study. Some foreigners can enter the U.S. without a visa because of the Visa Waiver Program. The report also specifies an "other" category that covers temporary workers, family members pending permanent visas, and attendants of diplomats.

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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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