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In a shift, Trump targets foreign travelers who overstay their US visas

Molly O'Toole, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- The White House says it plans to crack down on the hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors who overstay their U.S. visas, a vast challenge that has largely escaped notice as the Trump administration has focused chiefly on blocking migrants on the southern border.

Experts say so-called overstays by students, au pairs, tourists and others have far outpaced unauthorized border crossings in recent years and form a major portion of the estimated 10.7 million people in the country without permission.

President Donald Trump signed a memorandum late Monday threatening to ultimately suspend travel from countries with high rates of overstays, and possibly require foreign travelers to post "admission bonds" that would be repaid once they leave the country.

Visitors "who abuse the visa process and decline to abide by the terms and conditions of their visas, including their visa departure dates, undermine the integrity of our immigration system and harm the national interest," Trump wrote.

He offered few immediate concrete steps beyond directing the secretaries of Homeland Security and State to identify ways to combat non-immigrant visa overstays within 120 days.

Nonetheless, the memo serves as a rare acknowledgement by the administration that many undocumented people in the country entered legally by ship or plane. Trump has chiefly focused his ire on Central Americans who crossed the border between ports of entry or entered to seek asylum.

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The largest number of visa overstays are from Canada and Mexico, but 20 countries have overstay rates ranging from 10% to 41%, according to the White House.

"This has been an issue people have been trying to deal with for quite a long time," said Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington-based think tank. "The majority of new additions are actually overstayers, not people crossing the border illegally."

Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, called it "kind of surprising that an administration so active on immigration has taken this long" to focus on overstays.

"The memo itself doesn't do anything, but it does lay the groundwork for what potentially could be really strict enforcement around overstays," she added.

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