Almost 500,000 visa overstays in 2015

Around half a million foreign visitors who entered the United States legally stayed on despite the expiration of their US visas, according to a new government study. USA Today obtained the report, which is the first time an analysis has been made of a largely unknown populace.

The ‘visa overstays’ account for around 40 percent of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States; however, this figure is overshadowed by those crossing the southwest border from Mexico. The figures, which were collected by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), show that visa overstayers represent just 1.07 percent – a tiny fraction – of the almost 45 million legal immigrants who came to the US last year; however, the numbers are still likely to result in debate over the enforcement of immigration laws.

The report was first distributed by the DHS on Tuesday, with researchers saying it is a good first step to work out the scale of the problem and devise methods to deal with it. “We’re starting to get a better picture of how people flow through the immigration system with this report,” says the Pew Research Center’s senior demographer, Jeffrey Passel. “But, it’s incomplete.”

Almost 45 million foreign travelers who entered the United States using business and pleasure US visas via its sea and airports in the 2015 fiscal year were studied by the report, with 482,781 overstaying.

Passel admits it is difficult to say whether the figure is higher or lower than anticipated; however, future studies will make it easier for the government to spot long-term trends.