Overstays Exceeded Illegal Border Crossers after 2010 Because Illegal Entries Dropped to their Lowest Level in Decades

Publication date: 
April 2019
Center for Migration Studies logo, which pictures two blue-white globes, one picturing the continents of North and South America, the other showing Africa, Europe, and part of Asia. The letters CMS are to the right of the globes, with the full name spelled out further to the right. Posted in relation to their analysis, Overstays Exceeded Illegal Border Crossers after 2010 Because Illegal Entries Dropped to their Lowest Level in Decades.

On April 22, 2019, the president issued a memorandum to address the issue of nonimmigrants that “overstay” the period of time for which they are admitted (White House 2019). The memorandum directed the Secretary of State “to engage with the governments of countries with a total overstay rate greater than 10 percent in the combined B-1 and B-2 nonimmigrant visa category” and to “identify conditions contributing to high overstay rates among nationals of those countries and methods to address those conditions.”  It also directed: (1) the Secretary of State, after consulting with the Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security, to develop recommendations to reduce B-1 and B-2 (visitors for business and for pleasure) overstay rates; (2) the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security to take immediate measure to reduce overstay rates for all non-immigrant visas; and (3) the Secretary of Homeland Security to report on current measures and additional ways to reduce overstay rates from visa waiver countries.

Previous Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimates of overstays have not provided a sound basis for developing or implementing policies to reduce overstays. A Center for Migration Studies (CMS) evaluation of DHS overstay estimates for 2017 found that the estimates erroneously included very large numbers of nonimmigrants that departed but their departure could not be verified.

Recent media reports about the 2018 DHS estimates of overstays have cited estimates of overstays derived by CMS. The articles accurately report that the CMS estimates show that overstays have exceeded the number arriving illegally across the southern border (entry without inspection, or EWIs) in the past decade. Unfortunately, a significant aspect of the estimates is often omitted in descriptions of the two modes of entry into the undocumented population: overstays have exceeded EWIs in recent years not because overstays have increased more than EWIs but primarily because of the historic decline in illegal entries after 2000. Moreover, significant numbers of overstays leave undocumented status through adjustment to lawful permanent resident status, emigration on their own, and (a few) death. Others are removed by DHS.

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