US: Student overstay rates higher than tourists or business travellers
China has the most students and exchange visitors overstaying in the US. Source: Shutterstock

International students are overstaying and flouting their visa deadline at a rate higher than tourists or business travellers that head to the United States, a new Department of Homeland Security report that only focuses on arrivals by air and sea, reveals.

The report does not cover arrivals via land borders from Canada and Mexico, for which there are around 250 million annually, a figure five times the 50 million arrivals by air and sea the report is limited to, Fact Tank by Pew Research Centre reports.

Overall, the overstay rate among all foreign visitors at the end of the 2016 fiscal year was 1.25 percent. Meanwhile, students and exchange visitors’ overstay rate was 2.74 percent, whereas business and pleasure travellers’ rate was lower at 1.18 percent.

While their overstay rate was lower, the number of business travellers who overstayed are much higher at 553,000, compared to the 42,000 students suspected to still be in the US despite passing their deadline to do so.

About 1.5 million students were expected to leave the country by the end of fiscal year 2016, according to the DHS report.

Chinese students’ overstay rate down

The report also showed the overstay rate according to nationalities.

China accounted for the biggest group of students and exchange visitors that overstayed (8,000), probably due to them being the largest group of international students in the US.

India and South Korea followed suit with 3,000 and 2,000 overstayers respectively.

According to Law and BorderChinese students’ overstaying rate has dropped steadily over the years to 5.02 percent this year, slightly lower than the report’s global average of 5.48 percent.

“Just a decade ago, the rate was much higher, perhaps as high as 50 percent,” the immigration law blog wrote.

However, as Fact Tank noted, the report should be read with its limitations in mind. Apart from excluding land arrivals through the Canadian and Mexican borders, data on students’ migration movement is also harder to track than tourists or business travellers as many switch to a longer-term or permanent visa.

Such data relies heavily on schools to report information on their students coming from abroad to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information database.

Further weaknesses of the report include the report’s failure to account for some people who came to the US more than once when the overstay number counts each person only once.

If a person’s admission into the country was only counted once, that would potentially result in a smaller admission number than 50 million and a higher overstay rate than the one reported.

In the UK, the government last year called for foreign student numbers to be halved on the basis of data from its International Passenger Survey that overestimated the number of students that overstayed their visa.

Among the criticism for the proposal was that the data used to substantiate the move did not reflect the reality, where most foreign students do comply with their visa requirements and do not overstay.

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