Alan Gomez, USA TODAY, August 7, 2018
More than 600,000 foreign travelers who legally entered the United States in 2017 overstayed their visas and remained in the country by the end of the year, according to Department of Homeland Security data released Tuesday.
That figure represents only 1.15 percent of the more than 52 million foreigners who legally entered the U.S. through air and seaports in 2017, and is down from 1.25 percent the year before. But it marked the second straight year that more than 600,000 visitors stayed past the expiration of their visa, turning them into undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation.
President Donald Trump has urged Congress to complete a biometric entry-exit tracking system that would better monitor foreigners who legally visit the United States. Completion of that system, which uses fingerprints and iris scans to more accurately capture when people enter and exit the country, was included in an executive order he signed shortly after being sworn in as president.
In fact, more Mexicans are returning to their native country than coming to the United States, according to a 2015 report from the Pew Research Center. That reversal has led to a drop in the number of undocumented immigrants from Mexico living in the United States by more than 1 million, according to a 2017 report from Pew Research Center.
According to the DHS report, the department made some improvements in 2017 to ensure that foreigners left the country when they were required. It continued testing biometric screening processes at several air and seaports. And officials started emailing foreigners who were part of the Visa Waiver Program when the end of their visits were coming up. Citizens of 38 countries, mostly in Europe, are part of the program, which allows them to visit the U.S. for up to 90 days without first getting a visa.
Despite those gradual improvements, the report acknowledges that there is “no specific cause that can be directly attributed to the decrease in overstay rates” in 2017.
Other findings from the report:
- Canadians made up the largest group of visa overstays, with more than 92,000 remaining in the United States in 2017 despite being expected to leave.
- Mexicans made up the second-largest group of visa overstays, with more than 47,000. The report does not include people who cross via land borders, so those numbers would likely increase for both Canadians and Mexicans.
- The overall number of visa overstays has continued dropping in fiscal year 2018 as more people left the country voluntarily or through deportations. By January 2018, the number fell to 494,710, and by May, it fell to 421,325.