Record Visa Overstays Compound Border Crisis, Congress Seeks Solutions
The number of illegal aliens residing in the United States has reached crisis levels and will continue to grow without effective solutions. A key part of this problem is the many foreign nationals who enter through the nonimmigrant visa system, obtaining temporary visas for activities related to business or education, and then overstaying their visas.
Every year, the Department of Homeland Security is required to report to Congress on visa overstays. This year, in its Fiscal Year 2022 Entry/Exit Overstay Report, DHS data shows visa overstays are only continuing to increase. The report notes that in Fiscal Year (FY) 2022, nearly 854,000 nonimmigrants overstayed their visas, an increase of almost 180,000 since FY19 when 676,422 nonimmigrants overstayed. This increase in overstays is, in part, the result of relaxed enforcement. It also has negative implications for taxpayers as detailed in FAIR’s latest report, showing that illegal immigration costs American taxpayers an estimated $150.7 billion every year.
Nonimmigrant visa holders in every category had thousands of overstays, based on the DHS report. However, the highest number of overstayers were from the B1/B2 visa category, which applies to those entering for business and tourism. B1/B2 overstays accounted for 504,636 overstays in FY22. For those visas, Venezuela specifically had the highest number of overstays with 172,640, at a rate of 44.27 percent of total visa holders overstaying. These increased numbers should raise concerns among lawmakers and citizens alike, especially since history has shown that individuals overstaying their visas may pose a threat to national security while on U.S. soil.
With increasing encounters, increasing visa overstays, reduced deportations and few people being detained, the outlook is grim. The DHS overstay report specifically shows a clear trend of law-breaking behavior that is being further incentivized by non-enforcement policies. The increased number of visa overstays, and the millions of other aliens entering the United States illegally, should result in an increased number of deportations. However, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s Annual Report from last year shows the opposite to be true. In FY22, ICE deported barely 72,000 aliens, a sharp decrease from FY20 when ICE deported 186,884 aliens. To make matters worse, so far in FY23, ICE is only detaining a daily average of 31,000 aliens.
Given that visa overstays account for a large number of illegal aliens residing in the United States, our government cannot simply turn a blind eye to the problem. Last week, Senator J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) introduced the Timely Departure Act, a bill that would establish a visa bond system that requires individuals with nonimmigrant visas to pay a deposit between $5,000 and $15,000 before being granted admission into the United States. Under his bill, if the alien departs the country on time, the money is returned. However, if an alien fails to depart on time, the bond is forfeited and deposited into a newly created Immigration and Detention Enforcement Account to fund alien detention facilities and transportation of aliens ordered removed from the United States. Aliens who fail to leave the country on time would also become ineligible for lawful immigration status or adjustment of status for a period of 4 to 12 years.
Senator Vance’s bill comes alongside a commitment from House Republican lawmakers to hold visa overstayers accountable. In 2022, the American Security Task Force included proposed increased penalties for visa overstayers as part of its border security framework. House Republicans followed through on this promise by passing the Secure the Border Act (H.R. 2) in May 2023. That comprehensive, FAIR-supported bill takes important steps toward securing the border and fixing loopholes in our immigration system. Congressman Moran’s (R-Texas) Visa Overstays Penalty Act, which outlines fines between $500 and $1,000, and potential jail time of up to two years for those who fail to depart the country when their visa expires, was wholly included in the Secure the Border Act. But despite strong support from the American people, there has been little action on H.R. 2 in the Senate.
Given that the Biden Administration has refused to deport illegal border crossers and visa overstayers alike, more needs to be done to disincentivize nonimmigrants from violating the terms of their visas and overstaying. By enacting measures to hold visa holders accountable, Congress can help reduce the number of visa overstays and ensure people depart the United States when required.