The worsening crisis at the southern border has drawn public attention, as record-breaking numbers of illegal immigrants are being waved in by the Biden administration and resettled in communities across the country at a huge cost to taxpayers. Less obvious, but equally consequential, is the steady stream of new settlers who are admitted on a visa, but then decide to stay illegally beyond the permitted period. According to the latest report from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the number of these “overstaysers” exceeded 500,000 in 2020. They are believed to represent as much as 40 percent of the total illegal foreign population and are evidence of persistent, vulnerabilities in our immigration system.
Iraqi national Shihab Ahmed Shihab is one of the visitors who arrived in 2020 on a tourist visa, and who spent more time than he was welcome. He spent his time not visiting our national parks or Las Vegas, but worked illegally in restaurants and shops in Columbus and Indianapolis, and plotted the assassination of former President George W. Bush until his arrest on May 24.
Someone made a huge mistake in approving Shihab’s visa, but the government has yet to issue a statement explaining how he managed to get it and how he told immigration officials about his reasons for traveling here. What did you tell Obviously, our investigation failed.
According to the DHS report, more than 400 other Iraqis passed out visitor visas in 2020. In addition to Shahib, the government counted more than 48,000 overstays from 10 countries linked to terrorism.
About half of all overstays are visitors who come on short-term visas from countries that are not eligible for visa waivers. (Visa-eligible countries are developed countries such as France, Japan, and so forth, where most applicants are eligible and nations share security information with us.) Most overstays in 2020 came from within the Western Hemisphere, with the most being Brazil. Number from (more than 50,000). Colombia, Venezuela, China and India have been dropped from the list of countries with thousands of overstayers per year.
Foreign students and visa workers also stay longer, although they do not number as much as those on tourist visas. The number of ridiculers in both of these categories has declined significantly during the Trump administration. Notably, the rate at which students and exchange visitors traveled was cut in half from 2016 to 2020. This could be due to the general relaxation of pressure on consular officials to rubber-stamp approval under Trump, higher standards enforced after a series of exchange-visitor scandals, or even to legal work programs after graduation. Increase in the number of foreign students joining.
As with illegal border crossers, policies matter, and policy changes can help alleviate the problem. The State Department must adjust issuance standards and improve vetting of applicants in countries and categories that have very high longevity rates, and hold consular managers accountable for chronic review failures. The double-digit overstay rates we have for some countries like the Philippines, Guatemala and many others are unacceptable and should trigger a more restrictive approach.
To make matters worse, those who spend more time face some consequences. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has long ignored the problem of overstay, focusing its resources almost exclusively on the small fraction of illegal aliens who commit other crimes. In 2021, ICE looked for only a few dozen out of the millions of overstayers living here.
Consequences should also be imposed on employers, colleges, exchange programs and other sponsors of visitors who stay longer; If they fail to ensure the return of foreign visitors brought by them, they should be punished or even barred from hosting more visitors in future.
Such actions would help, but Congress should take the initiative—first, by directing DHS to complete the biometric entry-exit system, first enacted into law in 1996, which was partially launched in 2004. and was later expanded, but no real progress has been made since 2009. , That system could support an enhanced enforcement strategy that would include more stringent departure dates and an expedited deportation process, which can now drag on their immigration proceedings for years.
Prevention is better than enforcement, though. If visa scofflaws can’t get jobs, driver’s licenses, and other benefits so easily, there will be little incentive to remain illegal, and they’ll follow up with the visa or not come across in the first place. Preventing illegal employment through the expanded use of e-verification and discouraging sanctuary policies would greatly increase the risk, and reduce the appeal of visa overstay.
Our front-line immigration officers will never have the ability to read the minds of foreign visitors to understand their true motives for entering our country, which will be the only foolproof screening system. As we continue to welcome legitimate temporary visitors from abroad, we need to adjust our laws to prevent the next 500,000 overstays and unknown dangers among them.
Jessica Vaughan is the Director of Policy Studies Immigration Studies Center,
The views expressed in this article are those of the author.