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DHS Overstay Report Shows Students Overstay More Than Visitors

By Theresa Cardinal Brown

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

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Overstay Rate Less Than Two Percent of Travelers and Declines Over Time

The Trump administration this week released its report on Visa Overstays for fiscal year (FY) 2016, continuing what was started under President Barack Obama, who released the first such report last year after twenty years of missing congressional deadlines for overstay reporting. The new report adds foreign students and workers for the first time, and shows that students overstay their visas at higher rates than visitors. However, overall, the report shows that foreign temporary entrants follow the law and leave on time almost 99 percent of the time.

This year’s report includes almost all nonimmigrant visa categories, covering more than 96 percent of all travelers entering at air and sea ports of entry. Last year’s report only included visa waiver travelers (the single largest group of foreigners to come to the United States) and other temporary tourists and business visitors with visas. The FY2016 report adds foreign students and workers for the first time, as well as exchange visitors. Most of the categories not included in the current report are foreign diplomats and crewmembers. The former cannot really be sanctioned for overstay, and the latter enter and exit so frequently they are at very little risk for overstay. In any case, the excluded categories stand for a very small percentage of overall arrivals (less than 1 percent).

Foreign students overstay at much higher rates than any other type of nonimmigrant, more than twice the rate of foreign visitors with visas and eight times more than visa waiver travelers.

Overall, the report found that 739,000 visitors scheduled to depart last year did not leave on time. However, this does not mean that the United States added 739,000 to the unauthorized population living in the United States. The report notes that the initial number of “in-country overstays” (those who overstayed by at least one day but did not later leave within the fiscal year) goes down over time. Of the original 739,000 identified overstayers, 110,000 eventually departed the United States before the end of the fiscal year. This is consistent with last year’s report, which showed that the total number of overstays who remain in the United States decreases over time as some depart, some are removed, and others adjust to another status. In fact, this year’s report has an update on the overstays from FY2015, showing that as of June 2016, more than a quarter of those identified as in-country overstays in 2015 had subsequently departed. Future reporting that continues to show the departure rates of overstayers can help understand how visa overstays contribute to the undocumented immigrant population, and how various policies can influence the rate of departures.

The addition of foreign students in the report is a success for the Department of Homeland Security in data management. Students are not admitted with a specific departure date, but for the duration of their study. In order to determine whether a student overstayed, DHS needed to pull information from separate student databases that receive information from the hundreds of schools authorized to host foreign students about the student’s program of study and expected completion date.

The report also shows that foreign students overstay at much higher rates than any other type of nonimmigrant, more than twice the rate of foreign visitors with visas and eight times more than visa waiver travelers. The total overstay rate (the percent who stayed at least one day past their scheduled departure) for students was 5.48 percent. Visa visitors overstayed at an overall rate of 2.07 percent and visa waiver travelers had an overall overstay rate of 0.68 percent. Foreign worker categories, which include H-1B, H-2B and L-1s, had the next highest rates of overstay after students, at 3.07 percent overall. Since students and workers typically are permitted to stay in the country for months or years at a time, there may be a correlation between length of stay and likelihood to overstay. However, students and workers together represent only about 6 percent of all nonimmigrant admissions, so in terms of overall numbers, visitor overstays are greater.

The DHS report also has a breakdown of overstay rates by country for each visa category. Overstay rates for all categories are highest (double-digit percentages) for several African countries and some Asian countries. Several countries had overstay rates at more than 50 percent in some categories, such as Afghanistan at 58.3 percent of visa travelers who were not visitors or students. The tiny country of Cabo Verde had an overstay rate of 76 percent for nonstudent and non-visitor entrants. However, most of these countries had a small fraction of the total number of travelers to the United States. The country with the highest number of suspected overstays was Brazil, with more than 40,000 overstays in various categories.

This report gives much greater insight into the behavior of visitors and other travelers to the United States. 

Although the report includes some data for neighboring Canada and Mexico, the data doesn’t really tell us much about their overstay rates since the report only counts air and sea arrivals, and the vast majority of Mexicans and Canadians cross at land border ports of entry where there is not yet solid data collection. However, Customs and Border Protection included in the report a summary of an initial assessment conducted at the Southern land border to match recent arrivals to previous arrivals (which would indicate that the individual had left at some point). The initial data revealed that 94.2 percent of southern border land entrants returned to the United States again within 180 days. The true departure rate is likely higher, since some of these would not have come back within the year at all. More reporting and analysis like this could give a better picture of how travelers come and go at the land borders.

The fact that the federal government has produced two consecutive reports on overstays after 20 years of no reporting should be lauded. The fact that they have continued to provide more, rather than less information is also important. This report gives much greater insight into the behavior of visitors and other travelers to the United States, especially how many immigrants end up staying in the country illegally. As we have previously recommended, only through regular reporting of such metrics can we have a more informed discussion around the needs for border security and immigration enforcement.