Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Over 13,000 Jamaicans overstay US visas

Published:Wednesday | May 24, 2017 | 5:00 AM

Overall, nearly 740,000 foreigners who were supposed to leave the United States during the 12-month period October 2015 to September 2016 overstayed their visas, the Homeland Security Department said Monday, detailing a crucial but often overlooked contributor to the number of people in the country illegally.

The report shows that for Jamaica, more than 13,000 overstayed last year.

The Jamaican overstays nearly doubled from 6,952 visitors in fiscal 2015 and tripled the 4,404 overstays in fiscal 2014.

In the 2016 report, the Homeland Security data indicated that around 307,000 Jamaicans were expected to depart after temporary stays, of which nearly 9,000 were students or exchange visitors. But 13,064 of them did not depart in the expected period, including 715 students.

President Donald Trump has proposed spending billions of dollars to erect a wall on the US border with Mexico and hire more border agents, but those measures would not address people who arrive legally and stay after their visas expire. An estimated 40 per cent of the roughly 11 million people in the country illegally stayed past their visas.

There were 739,478 overstays from October 2015 through September 2016 among visitors who arrive by plane or ship - more than the population of Alaska.

The total number of overstays is much larger, but has not been quantified because the statistic doesn't include how many people leave by land.

The cost and technological hurdles to develop a checkout system at congested land crossings are enormous because the sites are so busy. Last year, Homeland Security tested facial scans at a San Diego border crossing, but has not said if the technology works or will be expanded.

Homeland Security last year published the number of overstays for the first time in at least two decades, saying 527,127 people who came by air or ship stayed past their visas from October 2014 to September 2015.

This year's report added students and foreign exchange visitors and many visa categories for temporary workers, while last year's only counted business travellers and tourists. Homeland Security said it will make additional improvements in future reports, including more data on people who cross by land.

Overstays accounted for 1.5 per cent of the 50.4 million visitors who arrived by plane or ship in the latest period, Homeland Security said. Canada occupied the top slot for overstays among business travellers and tourists, followed by Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela and the United Kingdom. Germany, Colombia, China, India and Italy rounded out the top 10.

The overstay rate was much higher among students and foreign exchange visitors, with 79,818 of 1.5 million, or 5.5 per cent, staying after their visas expired. China had the largest number of student overstays, followed by Saudi Arabia, South Korea, India and Brazil.

Trump vowed during last year's campaign to finish building a system to record when visitors leave the country by using biometric identifiers, like facial or iris scans, but he has focused much of his attention on building a wall and hiring more border agents.

Homeland Security's internal watchdog said earlier this month that immigration agents waste their time logging in and out of archaic computer systems while trying to track down foreigners suspected of overstaying their visas, only to find out later that many visa holders have left the country.

- AP and Gleaner reports