Overstaying visas. The number of foreigners who were supposed to leave the United States during a recent 12-month period but overstayed their visas dropped slightly, the Homeland Security Department reported last week.
Despite President Trump’s focus on immigrants from Mexico, for the second straight year Canada occupied the top spot for overstays followed by Mexico, Venezuela, the United Kingdom and Colombia, according to the 43-page report.
The report shows that a total of 701,900 people whose visas expired during the year ending last Sept. 30, overstayed their permissions, counting only foreigners who entered by air and seaports.
Canadians top the list of visitors overstaying visas
California has the largest number of residents who overstayed their visas (890,000), followed by New York (520,000), Texas (475,000), and Florida (435,000), according to an estimate from the Center for Migration Studies, a think tank based in New York, compiled from 2014 and 2015 figures.
An overstay is defined by DHS as a nonimmigrant who was lawfully admitted to the United States for an authorized period but stayed in the United States beyond his or her authorized admission period.
Overall, the fiscal 2017 “overstay rates are lower than those presented in the previous year’s” report, DHS stated. From October 2015 through September 2016 there were 739.478 overstays among visitors who arrived by plane or ship— a roughly 38,000 drop in overstays.
The total number of overstays in 2017 represents only 1.3 percent of the 52.7 million visitors who came to the U.S. by air and seaport with the expected departure that year. They entered with nonimmigrant admissions like for business or pleasure with B1 and B2 visas, students and exchange students with certain visas and other permissions, the DHS report stated.
Students and exchange visitors are the group with the highest rate of overstays, with 4.15 percent of a total 1,662,369 scheduled to complete their program but staying beyond their authorization.
To tackle this kind of illegal immigration arising from authorized entrances, the DHS has accelerated the ability for the government to track and enforce visitors’ exits with positive results, said John P. Wagner, Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“Besides gradually implementing facial recognition and biometric exit components at airports, we are being clear with people and advising them of their obligation to leave on time,” Wagner said. For instance, he added, “we have been sending email notifications to people when their expected date of departure is coming up. And if we don’t have a recorded departure of them, we are sending follow up emails about their overstay.”
The George Bush Intercontinental in Houston is one of the airports where CBP installed facial biometric exit technology last year, which is in use to track some flights initially on a trial basis, pending for decisions to be expanded all across the airport.
Another initiative implemented by CBP is the creation of a “Traveler Compliance Check” webpage within the DHS website where foreigners with nonimmigrant visas can look up what their period of admission is and what date it expires so that they can verify their expected departure date, among other tools for visitors.
CBP said they are also enforcing sanctions for foreigners staying beyond their permissions, such as suspensions of further entrances for long periods of time or all together, among others, depending on the severity of the case.
As a result, “overall, what we have seen is that, although the volume of travelers has increased, we had a slight decrease in the percentage of overstays in the different categories from year to year.”
The government has reduced the rate of total overstays to 1.3 percent from 1.5 in the previous fiscal year of 2016, at the same period that the country was receiving 4.8 percent more travelers at airports.
However, more telling about the increase in enforcement is the difference between total overstays and what the DHS calls “suspected in-country overstays.” The first category counts foreigners who didn’t leave by the visa expiration date, of whose a few have been tracked departing at a later time by air or seaports. The other refers to visitors with no record of having left the country at all.
CBP reports that there has been a significant decline in the number of suspected overstays that were counted at the end of fiscal year 2016. By May first of 2018, they were reduced from 629 thousand to 340 thousand, rendering a rate of only 0.67 percent of them remaining in the country.
Canada and Mexico
Contrary to popular belief and political rhetoric vilifying Mexicans and other communities as the culprit of most immigration violations and social ailments, when it comes to people who illegally overstay their visas, many of which become undocumented immigrants, the crown belongs to Canadians.
Canada, by far, is at the top of the list of countries whose nationals remain illegally in the U.S. after their permit expirations, with a total of 101,281 visitors doing so last year after coming with any or the nonmigrant visas. Mexico follows, but with almost half the number of Canadians for a total of 52,859. Although the rate of Canadian overstays is lower than Mexicans’ at 1.10 to 1.81 percent, respectively, the gross impact of Canadians on this kind of unauthorized population is much higher.
“People are not used to thinking of Canadians as the ‘bad guys’” said Néstor Rodríguez, a professor of the University of Texas at Austin’ Department of Sociology specialized on immigration. “Particularly now when Mexicans are being subjected to a negative social construction by the administration, where they are criminalized and seen as rapists and thieves, everybody can be surprised by this fact (about overstays) because it doesn’t fit the rhetoric,” he added.
The number of undocumented Canadians living in the U.S. is unknown.
“I am surprised that there is even such a report tracking Canadians,” said Gordon Quan, an immigration attorney in Houston. “For many years, Canadians have just had to show their passport and just get a ‘welcome to the United States,’ so only now we are beginning to know how many of them” have overstayed, he said.
“Unauthorized Europeans and Canadians have long received preferential treatment in U.S. politics and sometimes in policy,” said David FitzGerald, professor and Co-Director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego.
Several European nations are among the top overstayers, including the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany and Spain (See graphic above).
FitzGerald said that numerous studies have shown that immigration enforcement disproportionally targets Latino men. Several factors contribute to that, including that the border with Canada, much more extensive and porous than the southern border, has been largely neglected by administrations and Congress for fund allocations, something that began to change after 9/11.
A race factor, however, cannot be ignored, FitzGerald said, adding that “Canadians, like Melania Trump, tend to fly under the political radar when they violate the terms of their visas and overstay, or when they work without authorization. At the same time that Latinos are targeted, Canadians usually get a pass.”
Familiar physical characteristics with the traditional mostly white America may also play a role in helping certain foreigners blend in easier and pass for locals.
“Canadians pass for Americans” in terms of look, and “who stops these (white) people asking for their papers?” Quan said.
Immigration laws are made by Congress, and CBP is tasked to enforce them. Rodriguez finds it positive that DHS is now tracking overstays of people coming from Canada and other nations, of which the public wasn’t aware in previous years.
DHS and CBP began producing this annual report in 2015, tracking only business and pleasure visas. It started including all nonimmigrant visas the following year. CBP plans to monitor and report overstays of people entering legally by land. One of the obstacles that the agency is working on is the ability to implement biometric exit technology in international ports and exit points that were not initially build to incorporate specific logistics required for this advancements, officials said.