New Visa Overstay Policies

Erick Widman

With headlines and news stories almost always focusing on the president’s unrelenting attempts to suspend the flow of illegal immigrants at the southern border, other types of immigration policy announcements may go unnoticed and often do not garner the same amount of public attention or outcry. The White House has just issued one such announcement that could have far-reaching effects on the future of US immigration and tourism.

On Monday, April 22, 2019, President Trump signed a policy memorandum instructing the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security to begin putting together plans to curtail the frequency of visa overstays in the US. The executive order creates a four month timeline for drafting these new policies, which primarily focus on punishing countries with high levels of visa overstays. The countries in question are almost all African.

According to numbers compiled by the Center for Migration, more individuals are present in the country illegally due to overstaying a legally-issued visa than those who crossed the border into the US without inspection. This issue is often overlooked due to the fact that it is extremely difficult to track. Every year, thousands of foreigners enter the US as students, employees, or visitors on temporary visas, or on no visa at all through the Visa Waiver Program (known as ESTA) for eligible countries. These types of “non-immigrant” visas are only valid for a certain amount of time and require the recipient to either leave the country on or before a designated date, or to adjust their status through a formal process to gain a more secure immigration status.

There are currently very few policies in place for tracking the expiration date of these temporary visas or even for accurately tracking when these individuals exit the country. As such, president Trump is proposing new policies which would limit the number of these visas altogether, especially for foreign nationals who are known for overstaying them. One proposed policy is that visitors and other nonimmigrants would need to post “admissions bonds” which would be forfeited if they do not exit the country on time.

The proposed plan would apply only to countries whose citizens have a history of overstaying their visas at a rate of 10% or higher. Currently (according to the Department of Homeland Security’s Overstay Report for 2017), this figure applies to 20 countries, including Djibouti, Nigeria, Somalia, Chad, Yemen, Angola, Sudan, Togo, Liberia, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, and Syria. While no official policy change has been announced, it is likely that the White House will use this as an opportunity to restrict or ban individuals from certain countries from coming to the US until there is a dramatic decrease in overstay rates. In practice, this policy could have a huge impact on business and tourism in the US.

Consular officers at US Embassies and Consulates abroad already exercise a huge amount of discretion when processing visa applications and this proposed policy announcement comes at a time when approvals for visas of all types are at an all-time low. More denials than ever are being issued for non-immigrant and immigrant visas alike, and an increasing number of applicants are being placed into lengthy “administrative processing” for security purposes following their visa interviews. This new policy would mean many more denials, and possibly even halted operations at certain consular posts.

This new memorandum goes hand-in-hand with a Trump administration decision last month to begin the process of closing dozens of US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) field offices abroad. This move already threatens to severely delay or hinder visa processing from many countries in Africa, Asia, and throughout the Middle East.

While it is too early to predict the overall outcome of these imminent policy changes, it is safe to say that immigration is going to continue to get harder, especially from countries where it wasn’t easy to begin with.

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