Report: Visa Overstays More Common Than Illegal Border Entries; Mexicans The Most Likely to Overstay

By Mark Browne | March 15, 2017 | 10:12pm EDT
(Image: State Department)

Mexico City ( – Foreigners living in the U.S. after overstaying their visas are most likely to be Mexicans, and visa overstays are more common than illegal entries across the southern border, according to a report by the Center for Migration Studies (CMS).

The report found that individuals overstaying their visas accounted for 66 percent of the undocumented people living in the U.S. who arrived in 2014.

More than two-thirds of the undocumented residents living in Massachusetts, Hawaii, Connecticut and Pennsylvania are the result of visa overstays, the CMS report said.

California led with the number of undocumented residents who overstayed their visas (890,000) followed by New York (520,000), Texas (475,000), and Florida (435,000), according to the data analyzed by the report’s authors.

“When you look at the population of people who have overstayed their visas, Mexico is the leading country,” said the report’s co-author Robert Warren. “But China and India are not that far behind when you look at numbers.”

According to the report, more undocumented residents in the U.S. arrived with a visa and then overstayed, than crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally in every year since 2007.

Overstays have exceeded border crossings by some 600,000 since 2007.

Citing the findings, the CMS report questions the need to build a wall on the Mexican border as proposed by the Trump administration.

It said that illegal southern border crossings made up less than 40 percent “of all undocumented arrivals since 2010, and just one-third of arrivals in 2014,” and said that calls into question “the necessity and efficacy of extending the border wall.”

Ira Mehlman, media director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, acknowledged that visa overstays are a “very significant part” of the illegal immigration problem and that the number of overstays has been growing in recent years.

But he also believes improving security along the border is “an important part of the solution,” and that the government needs to act against employers hiring workers not legally entitled to be in the U.S.

“Just putting barriers across the border – while they are an important part of the solution – by themselves won’t solve the problem,” he told

The prospect of getting a job in the U.S. is what attracts immigrants most, Mehlman said. “We have not enforced laws against employers who hire illegal immigrants.”

“Money talks in Washington and the business lobby – they don’t really want the flow of subsidized labor cut off.”

Mehlman said Congress should require that E-verify, the government Internet-based system that allows businesses to check job candidates’ eligibility to work in the U.S., “be made a universal part of the hiring process.”

“We’re at the start of a new administration. We’ll see if they do a better job.”

Efforts by the federal government to crack down on visa overstays include plans to collect biometric data, including fingerprints, on individuals as they exit U.S. airports.

In 2004 the government ordered the Department of Homeland Security to establish a “biometric air exit system,” according to a GAO report released last month.

But “longstanding planning, infrastructure, and staffing challenges,” still stand in the way of monitoring who exits the country by air, it said.

The GAO report found that 45,272 Mexicans had overstayed their visas in 2015, and concluded that 42,114 were suspected of still being in the country. The total rate of visa overstays in that year for Mexicans was 1.56 percent.

The report said 2018 has been set as a goal for establishing biometric monitoring at “at least” one airport.

But it noted that significant barriers to implementation remain.

“…U.S. airports generally do not have outbound designated secure areas for exiting travelers where biometric information could be captured by U.S. immigration officers,” the GAO report noted.

Meanwhile, the GAO said public-private partnerships are being explored “to reduce costs” and allow the airlines industry to have “more control over how a biometric exit capability is implemented at airport gates.”

“This is something that should have been done a long time ago,” said Mehlman. “It makes it difficult to find people if you don’t even know if they have left the country.”

According to the GAO report, the DHS focuses on individuals who have overstayed their visas only if the DHS thinks they may pose a “security or public safety risk.”

Of 2.7 million “overstay leads” investigated by the DHS in fiscal years 2013 through 2015, only one percent were sent to DHS field offices for further investigation.

The DHS plans to start reporting visa overstays by individuals who entered the U.S. by land starting this fiscal year.

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