“Visa overstays” occur when foreigners do not leave upon the expiration of the visas that permitted them to visit, work, or study in the United States. According to a recent report by the Center for Migration Studies, visa overstays “significantly exceeded” illegal crossings from 2010 to 2017.
Estimates of the total number of illegal aliens in the United States range from 10-20 million, but according to this report, 62 percent of the 515,000 estimated arrivals by illegal aliens to the United States in 2016—a total of 320,000—were overstays.
And it’s quite possible that the visa overstay crisis is broader than government officials have let on. In a recent piece for The Hill, immigration law expert Nolan Rapapport explained the problem with accurately tracking visa overstays.
Most overstay data pertains to non-immigrant visitors who came here through the Visa Waiver Program, which allows eligible aliens from 38 countries to enter the United States as non-immigrant visitors without going through the visa process.
Although the Visa Waiver Program was established in 1986 and entries began in 1988, overstay records were not available until 2016. Moreover, entry and exit data is only collected at air- and seaports; it is not collected at land ports.
The visa overstay crisis represents one more glaring symptom of our broken immigration system. A patchwork of insufficient laws, enforcement policies, and unreliable data makes a crisis-level problem like visa overstays become largely overlooked by the media and Congress. These illegal immigrants pose the same strain on our environment, our working poor, and our infrastructure as those who broke into our country.
Speaking of Congress, recent polling suggests immigration ranks among the biggest issues concerning voters. It’s time for Congress to act on our border security AND visa overstays.