Visa overstays get short shrift in border debate

Published 9:52 am Wednesday, October 12, 2016

SAN DIEGO — More than 20 years had elapsed since the U.S. government estimated how many people entered the country legally and overstayed their visas. The updated numbers, finally published in January, were sobering.

The Homeland Security Department said 527,127 people who were supposed to leave the country in the 2015 fiscal year overstayed, more than the population of Atlanta. And that was only those who entered by plane or ship, not on land.

To put that in perspective, the Border Patrol made 337,117 arrests of people entering the country illegally during the same period, nearly all on the border with Mexico. More people overstayed visas than were caught crossing the border illegally.

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An estimated 40 percent of the 11.4 million people in the U.S. illegally overstayed visas, a crucial but often overlooked fact in the immigration debate. That percentage may grow as India and China replace Mexico as the largest senders of immigrants to the United States. Mexicans have long entered illegally through deserts of California, Arizona and Texas but the absence of a shared border makes that route unlikely for Asians.

Overstays accounted for about 1 percent of 45 million visitors on business and tourist visas from October 2014 to September 2015, according to the long-awaited Homeland Security report. Canada occupied the top slot for overstays, followed by Mexico, Brazil, Germany and Italy. The United Kingdom, Colombia, China, India and Venezuela rounded out the top 10.