DHS Has the Names of 1.2 Million Probable Visa Overstayers

DHS has 1.2 million names of probable visa overstayers according to GAO.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) just released a new report on the progress of the Department of Homeland Security in establishing the biometric entry-exit matching system for international travelers that Congress mandated in 1996. (Highlights at http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/656345.pdf) That data system has not been developed despite renewed Congressional mandates in 2000 and 2004.

The report noted progress in collecting entry data but failure to develop a comprehensive system for collecting matching departure data on international travelers. It also noted some progress in reducing the backlog of records of people known to have entered the U.S. but whose departure cannot be confirmed. That backlog was reduced from 1.6 million files in 2011 to 1.2 million files in June 2013.

GAO examined current records and found that 87 percent were persons who entered as tourists – with those divided nearly equally between persons who entered in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and those who entered with visas. Seven percent entered as business travelers – also split between those with and visas and those who entered in the VWP. Two percent entered as temporary workers (H-2A or H-2B visas) and four percent were in some other visa category – which could include some professional temporary workers in the H-1B visa program. Most entered by air (64%) followed by land entry (32%) and sea (4%). Overstayers who entered by land would include only those who were from countries other than Mexico or Canada, or from those two countries if they had a visa for longer or farther than a cross-border visit.

GAO also found that about two-thirds of those unresolved overstay cases were for aliens who were one to two years beyond their authorized stay. GAO also noted that by not identifying overstayers who entered in the VWP by nationality, DHS was preventing application of another congressional mandate that specifies the termination of a country from the program if more than three percent of entrants without visas from the country overstay their permit.

DHS assigns a very low priority to the overstay issue. GAO found that in 2012 DHS allocated a mere 1.8 percent of the internal investigations personnel hours of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to overstay investigations. ICE has declared that its priorities encompass foreigners who have been convicted of crimes, national security threats and recent illegal entrants. It may be assumed that of those priorities most of the 1.8 percent of ICE investigation hours is spent on national security cases.

The stalling by DHS on implementation of the entry-exit system appears to reflect a reluctance to invest resources in a program that is likely to identify illegal aliens whom the agency has no interest in removing. However, without a functional entry/exit system, DHS stands little chance of identifying and removing terrorists and criminals the agency claims to be targeting.

About Author


Jack, who joined FAIR’s National Board of Advisors in 2017, is a retired U.S. diplomat with consular experience. He has testified before the U.S. Congress, U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform and has authored studies of immigration issues. His national and international print, TV, and talk radio experience is extensive (including in Spanish).


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