The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) at long last furnished Congress a report on visa overstayers on January 20. The report furnished only partial data, but even that limited data raised many questions. The most important issues identified by the report are:
– The government is still unable to track whether the bulk of entering foreigners have left by the required departure date.
– The number of overstayers in fiscal year 2015 among those who are tracked – tourist and business visitors – exceeds the number of deportations by as many as 365,000 persons.
– That number would be greater if a full range of entering nonimmigrants were tracked by DHS.
The report covered about 45 million travelers and found that more than one percent of them – an estimated 527,127 persons failed to leave by the date required by their entry status. Some additional departures since the end of the 2015 fiscal year dropped that number down to about 483,000 foreigners who presumably are still illegally in the country.
This amount of new illegal aliens is much greater than the reported number of deportations of illegal aliens last fiscal year – about 117,000 persons – thus indicating that the number of illegal aliens in the country may have increased by as many as 365,000 persons. This indication is in stark contrast to other recent reports that the number of illegal aliens in the country is dropping.
The DHS report says it is complicated to simply match departure dates with authorized stay dates because the authorized stay date may have been extended. This begs the question as to whether the computer entry for the traveler is updated when an extension is granted, and why that date cannot be matched with the actual date of departure.
The DHS report includes only apparent overstay rates for tourists and business travelers with visas (B-1 or B-2) or from visa waiver countries (W-B and W-T). Since students have their own tracking system, why is this information on identified overstayers not provided? Other nonimmigrants who are provided SSNs have an easy means to obtain work if they stay illegally, especially with no time limit specified on their SSN. Why are these temporary nonimmigrant workers (e.g., H and J visas) not included in the report?
The DHS report covers travelers entering by air and sea but not by land. This is an enormous gap in the data. While those entering at border ports with a visa or border crossing card (BCC) and staying illegally may be a small share of total of border entries, the total number of entries is so large that those overstaying could represent additional hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens each year. The reason that machine-readable BCCs were issued was to be able to maintain computerized statistical data regarding persons entering and leaving the country by land. So why can’t DHS provide this data?
It took a budget amendment withholding funds from DHS if it did not supply this report to overcome the administration’s reluctance (or inability) to provide data on visa overstays. And the data are still incomplete. But the limited data still represent a valuable step towards understanding the overstay issue and identifying the gaps and weaknesses in national security caused by the inability to monitor the presence of foreigners who have been admitted into the country.