WASHINGTON - Most visitors to the United States depart when they are supposed to at the end of their vacation or school year or business trip. But hundreds of thousands of people failed to leave by the time their stay legally expired during the last fiscal year, according to government data released Monday.
The Department of Homeland Security accounted for the departures or change in legal status of nearly 50 million individuals from around the world who were supposed to leave between Oct. 1, 2015, and Sept. 30, 2016; but by early this year, the agency determined 544,676 people (1.07 percent) didn't leave when their visas expired, didn't adjust their status (as would be the case of, for example, an asylum seeker who came as a tourist), and remained in the country at the end of the last fiscal year.
This is the second time DHS (FY2016 report) has issued the "Entry/Exit Overstay Report."
And if the first report covering 2015 is any indicator, the final overstay number will be revised downward again. At the end of FY2015, officials first estimated about 482,781 individuals (1.07 percent) stayed in the country; by cross-referencing information from multiple government agencies, DHS estimated in June of last year that the number was actually 355,338 individuals (0.79 percent).
United Kingdom has most visitors
The agency tallied overstays by visitors who arrived by air and sea from the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) — mostly European — countries and non-VWP countries, adding another data set for student visa holders this year.
Of the VWP countries, with their rate of 0.60 percent suspected in-country overstayers (who not only overstayed the time allowed, but still weren't accounted for as having left by the end of the fiscal year), the United Kingdom had the most visitors and also the highest number 20,670; but proportionally, Hungarians were the most likely of the VWP countries to not leave on time — 2,272 (2.23 percent) remained in the U.S.
Of the non-VWP countries (which excluded Canadians, Mexicans, and students), 1.90 percent overstayed, with Brazil topping in volume — 36,929 of more than 2 million visitors lingered after their visas expired; however, Burkina Faso had the highest rate, proportionally, with 1,146 (25.50 percent) of its visitors overstaying.
Highest overstay rate
As a category, student and exchange visitors had the highest overstay rate, with 40,949 failing to leave on time (2.8 percent).
The data was released a day ahead of a Congressional committee hearing on visa overstays, scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, during which four DHS officials are expected to testify.
U.S. security officials have not fully implemented a biometric entry/exit system that has been in the works since 2013, complicating how agencies track visa overstays. DHS relies on biographic information from passenger manifests to document departures, but has begun pilot programs to collect biometric data like fingerprints as people leave the country.