How Many Visa Overstayers?

What True Immigration Reform Looks Like: End Visa OverstaysIt seems that everybody agrees that there is no definitive answer to what share of the illegal alien population entered the country legally with visas but stayed illegally. FAIR describes the range of estimates in an issue brief “Visa Overstayers.”

Official sources have cited a rate of one-third and two-fifths of the illegal alien population as visa overstayers. Pew researchers have cited a range of 38 to 50 percent. The GAO has issued estimates of 23 percent, 31 percent and 57 percent using different methodologies.

Now the Pew Research Center has issued a new report on jobs held by illegal aliens that raises a new question about the share of visa overstayers. The Pew researchers say that of an estimated 8.1 million illegal aliens in the workforce 13 percent are in professional or managerial jobs. Most of the others are in service, construction, production, or agricultural jobs. This raises the question of how many persons residing illegally in the United States and doing manual or blue collar work entered the country with visas?

The immigration law requires visas to be denied to persons who do not overcome the presumption that they will violate the visa and stay in the United States. That provision of law diminishes the likelihood that someone who ends up in low wage work in the United States will have received a visa. It is likely that the 13 percent of illegal aliens working in higher wage professional or managerial jobs entered with a visa, but few of those in the low wage jobs entered in that way.

This conclusion takes on greater likelihood in the context of the only study done on the 1986 amnesty population where 25 percent of the non-agricultural worker amnesty beneficiaries said they entered with a visa. If the agricultural worker beneficiaries were included in the data, that share would presumably have been much lower.

Why does it make a difference whether half or two-fifths or one-third or fewer than one-fourth of the illegal aliens are visa overstayers? The proponents of an amnesty for the illegal alien population generally use the highest estimates of the overstayer population as that fits with their argument that the illegal aliens will display rapid upward mobility if they gain legal status. If, on the other hand, most of the illegal aliens sneaked into the country and are in low wage jobs because they have low levels of education and work skills, this raises doubt about their ability to benefit economically from an amnesty. That implies future reliance of social assistance programs that are legally unavailable to them as illegal aliens. And, it also means a new burden U.S. taxpayers. 

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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    The visa overstay problem implies that American “white collar” – not just “blue collar” positions are being imperiled.

    The Department of Justice completed an overstay study in 1998 using 1993 data. The table of contents is here: Letter says that, “The report showed that the great majority of aliens from Europe, Asia, and Africa who were legalizing their status had overstayed. The overstays in the study were better educated, tended to have higher family incomes, and held white collar jobs at a higher rate than those aliens who had surreptitiously entered the United States (also known as entered without inspection or “EWI”). Of the overstays, 67 percent had over 12 years of education and 9 percent had 6 or fewer years of education. However, of the EWIs in the study, only 17 percent had over 12 years of education and 45 percent had 6 or fewer years of education. Twenty-nine percent of the overstays earned $30,000 or more, while only 17 percent of the EWIs earned as much. Thirty-four percent of all overstays fell into the lowest end of the earning scale (under $12,000 per annum) versus about 41 percent of the EWIs. Twenty-five percent of overstays, but only 8 percent of EWIs, held white collar jobs.”

    Note that the overstay percentage from India has increased this number, as the survey data was collected prior to the passage of the Immigration Act of 1990, which created the controversial H-1B Visa program. The H-1B
    Visa program has increased the overstay population. Some of these CIS reports on H-1B discuss this important issue.

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      Sorry, but will not trust anything that Eric holder’s justice department puts outl. I have read visa overstays make up 43% of illegals. Moreover, to try and advance the argument that all is hunky dory cuz they snap up white collar jobs is ludicrous!
      Also would like to know how they got their info. Most illegals go off the charts once that visa disappears. Ask my child in NYC. Her school loves, loves, loves immigrants to enroll there. Curiously, on the follow up reports, most of th class has disappeared or is “traveling”. Cough cough

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    A report on NBC News said that that the Sierra Nevada snow pack, which provides a lot of California’s water when it melts, recorded it’s lowest depth ever. In response, Jerry Brown, Barbara Boxer, Diane Feinstein, and Nancy Pelosi made an emergency call to the president of Mexico to tell him to send more of his countrymen to California with no delay. I mean, when you’re stuck on stupid, why stop now.

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      I Read in Mother Earth Recently

      That one dog has the carbon footprint of three (3) Hummers, one trip on a commercial jet equals the carbon foot print of a year of recycling…..imagine the carbon footprint of one human being…

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      Saw it too. My other child in Cali will suffer for the ruination of CA by liberals and conservative religious fools. These twits propose everything EXCEPT the closing of the borders and the cessation of the immigrant flow into this country. Said it a thousand times: if you think the USA has a continuous bounty of natural resources, look up California’ problems. Resources are finite.