On Monday of this week, Trump ordered his administration to crack down on “visa overstays,” that is, foreigners who legally enter the country but remain in the U.S. after their time given to remain in the country has expired.
Trump signed a memorandum ordering the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security to submit plans within four months to crackdown on overstays, such as punishing countries whose citizens have high rates of overstays and requiring foreign travellers to post “admission bonds,” where people entering the country would pay a fee that would be reimbursed when they leave — in an effort to improve compliance..
The order is the latest example of Trump’s renewed push on immigration, following a shakeup of the Department of Homeland Security and his increasing frustration with the rising number of Central American migrants entering the country, according to a USA Today report.
The report pointed out that authorities have long complained that overstays are just as problematic as undocumented immigrants who cross the southern border.
More than 1.2 million foreigners overstayed their visas from 2016 to 2017, according to the most recent Homeland Security data.
“Although the United States benefits from legitimate (non-immigrant) entry, individuals who abuse the visa process and decline to abide by the terms and conditions of their visas, including their visa departure dates, undermine the integrity of our immigration system and harm the national interest,” Trump wrote in his memorandum.
In 2006, the Pew Research Center estimated that nearly half of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants entered the country legally on visas, but remained after their visas expired, turning them into undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation.
The federal government only recently started closely tracking visa overstays, issuing its first report in January 2016 during the Obama administration.
But the reports immediately revealed the scope of the problem – more than 600,000 foreigners overstayed their visas each year from 2016 to 2017.
Under the guidelines set out by Trump on Monday, 21 countries could face sanctions because 35,442 of their citizens overstayed their U.S. visas in 2018, according to Homeland Security data.
The region facing the most potential impact is Africa, home to 13 countries on the list ranging from Angola to Chad to Sudan. The biggest target by far is Nigeria, which saw 29,004 of its citizens overstay their visas in 2018.
Another six countries on the list are located in Asia, and several have been embroiled in bloody armed conflicts, such as Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen.
Rounding out the list are the island nations of Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia, who combined for 13 total visa overstays in 2018.
The president could have chosen to punish countries where the largest numbers of total visa overstays came from.
For example, more than 34,000 Brazilians, 15,000 Chinese, 10,000 Indians and 10,000 French overstayed their visas in 2018.
But Trump chose to target countries where the overstay rate — not the total number of people who overstayed their visas — was high. That means Brazil, China, India and France will not be affected by Trump's order since their citizens' combined overstay rate was 0.9%.
But smaller countries like Bhutan, a mountainous nation squeezed between China and India, could face sanctions since 46 of 398 of its people who traveled to the U.S. in 2018 overstayed their visas, a rate of 13.1%.
Critics say its no coincidence that the Trump administration chose a method that punishes mostly African and Asian countries and spares European countries and other U.S. allies.
"This is Stephen Miller's way of operationalizing his immigration strategy to 'make America White again' by covering his tracks with data to disguise the underlying White nationalist objectives of the policy," said Douglas Rivlin, director of communications for America’s Voice, an immigration advocacy group, said of the president's immigration adviser.
And with illegal immigration remaining at historic lows, that means the majority of new undocumented immigrants are legally entering through land, air and sea ports with visas in hand.
Stopping visa overstays has proved just as difficult as sealing the southern border.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Congress passed a law requiring that the federal government capture the fingerprints of all incoming, and departing, foreigners to better track who enters the country and exits. Such “biometric” information is considered more reliable than the “biographic” information that’s currently the norm – names, birthdates and paper travel documents.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has initiated many pilot projects to test that technology, including facial recognition software that is currently being used at 13 airports around the country. But the government is far from being able to implement the kind of nationwide, biometric exit-entry system ordered by Congress nearly 20 years ago.
Trump’s memorandum offers up other suggestions for ways to crackdown on overstays.
He ordered Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to “engage with the governments” of countries where more than 10% of their citizens travelling to the U.S. on short-term visas do not leave the country when their visas expire. Possible punishments include limiting the number of visas granted to citizens of those countries, limiting the time its citizens are allowed to travel to the U.S. and requiring its citizens to provide more documents when traveling.
And while the memorandum gives Pompeo and acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan time to develop their broader strategies to combat visa overstays, the president made clear that they should start doing anything they can in the meantime.
“The Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall immediately begin taking all appropriate actions that are within the scope of their respective authorities to reduce overstay rates for all classes of (non-immigrant) visas,” Trump wrote.
- Countries: United_States
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