Immigration

The U.S. government is targeting hundreds of thousands who have overstayed their visas

In this photo taken Feb. 7, 2017, released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an arrest is made during a targeted enforcement operation conducted in Los Angeles.
In this photo taken Feb. 7, 2017, released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an arrest is made during a targeted enforcement operation conducted in Los Angeles. AP

The U.S. government has pulled together the numbers and nationalities of foreign travelers who entered the country legally in 2017 as non-immigrants but overstayed their visas or their authorized period of admission — thus remaining in the country without legal status.

A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report for fiscal year 2017 shows more than 606,000 visitors to the United States overstayed their tourist, work, business and student visas, among other categories of non-immigrant admissions.

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Those violations represent a tiny portion — 1.15 percent or 606,926 suspected overstays — of the estimated 52.6 million non-immigrant admissions through air or sea ports of entry, according to the report.

However, despite the Trump administration’s measures to strengthen immigration enforcement, this was the second year in a row in which more than 600,000 visitors overstayed beyond their period of admission, automatically becoming undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation.

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“Identifying aliens who overstay their authorized periods of stay is important for national security, public safety, immigration enforcement, and processing applications for immigration benefits,” the DHS report noted.

The document emphasized that DHS will continue to develop biographical and biometric data on travelers to improve the tracking and deportation of violators who remain in the U.S. despite being expected to leave.

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The data shows that people who overstay their visas account for an important part of undocumented immigration. An estimated 40 percent of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States arrived legally but stayed after their visas expired, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

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Venezuelan nationals accounted for the highest overstay rate among Hispanics non-immigrants admitted to the U.S. for business or tourism, according to the DHS statistics. Venezuelans are fleeing a deepening political and economic crisis in their country, and South Florida has one of the biggest communities of expats.

During the last fiscal year, 538,827 Venezuelan visitors admitted with B1/B2 business and tourist visas were expected to depart and 30,424 overstayed their visit — a 5.65 percent overstay rate.

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Venezuelans also recorded the highest rate of overstays of non-immigrant student and exchange visitors (F, M and J visa categories) among Hispanics admitted to the U.S. Out of 15,138 Venezuelans with those types of visas who were supposed to leave last year, 1,087 — or 7.18 percent — overstayed without legal status, according to DHS.

Virtually tied for second and third places among Hispanic visitors who overstayed were Dominicans at 2.88 percent rate and Cubans at 2.86 percent rate. Fourth and fifth places went to El Salvador and Colombia.

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Haitian nationals who visited the U.S. for business or pleasure had a 6.84 percent overstay rate.

Dominican, Salvadoran and Colombian students also followed Venezuelans on the list of student and exchange visitor overstays, according to the DHS report, titled Fiscal Year 2017 Entry/Exit Overstay Report.

More broadly,the largest groups of people who entered the U.S. legally and then overstay their visit were Canadians, with more than 92,000 remaining in the U.S. longer than they were permitted, followed by Mexicans, with more than 47,000. It is estimated that the numbers are higher because the DHS’ report does not include arrivals by land border crossings.

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DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in the report’s introduction that her agency is working with the U.S. State Department “to share information on departures and overstays, especially as it pertains to the visa application and adjudication process.”

She stressed that the government’s goal is to reinforce visa compliance and decrease overstay numbers and rates.

Read more: How have Trump’s policies made immigration system harder

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Follow Daniel Shoer Roth on Facebook and Twitter @DanielShoerRoth and read more about legal and immigration issues in Spanish at AccesoMiami.com.
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