US Visa Overstays: Is the Sky Falling?


uscis_logo-white-backgroundThe Trump administration recently proposed (yet another) new rule related to nonimmigrant, including student, visas.  This one, if approved, will establish a maximum period of authorized stay for international students and other holders of certain nonimmigrant visas.  Why?  Is there something broken that needs to be fixed?  Are the overstay rates breaking new records?  Do the naughty few who overstay their official welcome represent a danger to US national security?  Can’t the system deal with them using existing rules, regulations, and laws?

One of the fears is that this new rule could make it harder for US colleges and universities to recruit international students in what is already an exceedingly challenging and often exasperating environment.  

More specifically, the proposed rule would modify the period of authorized stay for certain categories of nonimmigrants traveling to the United States from “duration of status” (D/S) and to replace such with a maximum period of authorized stay, and options for extensions, for each applicable visa category.  The Statement of Need reads as follows:  The failure to provide certain categories of nonimmigrants with specific dates for their authorized periods of stay can cause confusion over how long they may lawfully remain in the United States and has complicated the efforts to reduce overstay rates for nonimmigrant students. The clarity created by date-certain admissions will help reduce the overstay rate.  

Since the devil is usually in the details and I’m an academic by training, I decided to take a few precious minutes out of my life and have a look at the latest Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Fiscal Year 2017 Entry/Exit Overstay Report (PDF download).  Unless you’re a glutton for bureaucratic punishment, the DHS press release from 7 August 2018 should suffice.  

The report provides data on departures and overstays for foreign visitors to the US who entered as nonimmigrants through an air or sea Port of Entry (POE) and who were expected to depart in FY17.  The report includes temporary workers and their families, students, exchange visitors, temporary visitors for pleasure and business, and other nonimmigrant classes of admission.  

What were the overall results for FY17?  Not too shabby.  DHS determined that there were 52,656,022 in-scope nonimmigrant admissions to the United States through air or sea POEs with expected departures occurring in FY 2017.  (This represents the vast majority of all nonimmigrant admissions.)  DHS calculated a total overstay rate of 1.33%, or 701,900 overstay events.  As of the end of FY17,  there were 606,926 Suspected In-Country Overstays.  The overall Suspected In-Country Overstay rate was 1.15% of the expected departures.  

Among 1,662,369 F, M, or J visa holders,  4.15% stayed beyond the authorized window for departure at the end of their program.  The suspected in-country overstay rate for all three visa categories was 2.35%, including 2.25% for F, 2.36% for M, and 2.59% for J visas.  

Note:  An individual who is a suspected in-country overstay has no recorded departure, while an out-of-country overstay has a recorded departure that occurred after their lawful admission period expired.  In other words, the former are still floating around the US somewhere, while the latter left, albeit belatedly.  

Making a Mountain Out of a Molehill?

Here are the FY17 overstay rates for nonimmgrant students and exchange visitors (F, M, J) admitted to the US via air and sea POEs (excluding Canada).  

China: 1.47%
India: 2.22%
S. Korea: 1.48%
S. Arabia: 1.49%
Viet Nam: 6.11%
Canada: N/A  (Students need an I-20 but not a F-1 visa.)
Brazil: 3.33%
Taiwan: .87%
Japan: 1.28%
Nigeria: 23.49%

None of these percentages come as a surprise.  Among the 10 countries on this list, which happen to represent the top 10 sending countries for international students in the US, Viet Nam ranks 2nd – after Nigera – with a suspected in-country overstay rate of 6.11%.  With the exception of Brazil, the other rates range from less than 1% (Taiwan) to just over 2% (India).  It’s as if the MAGA bean counters are looking for issues where none exist.  

Here is the FY17 breakdown for Viet Nam:  

Expected departures:  16,900
Out-of-country overstays:  447
Suspected in-country overstays:  1032
Total overstays:  1479
Total overstay rate:  8.75%
Suspected in-country overstay rate:  6.11%

Finally, here are the FY17 overstay rates for Vietnamese admitted to the US for business or pleasure, i.e., on B visas.  

Expected departures:  91,901
Out-of-country overstays:  493
Suspected in-country overstays:  2326
Total overstays:  2819
Total overstay rate:  3.07%
Suspected in-country overstay rate:  2.53%

While the student in-country overstay rate is higher than the tourist and business rate, it certainly doesn’t ring any alarm bells.  The bottom line is that virtually every Vietnamese tourist, businessperson, and student left the US on time.  Instead of overreacting and throwing the baby out with the bathwater, why not focus on those countries with exceptionally high overstay rates?  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

 

 

 

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