Nigeria especially, and 12 other African countries, may suffer American visa denials as US President Donald Trump targets countries with a high percentage of visa overstays.
The White House recently shifted its focus from the surge of families crossing the US-Mexico border to the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who arrive in the US legally and then illegally remain in the country after their visas expire.
Though President Trump has fixated on the rising numbers of Central American families claiming asylum at his country’s southern border, he also promised during his campaign that deporting those who overstay their legal visas would be a top priority for his administration.
Last month, Trump issued a presidential memo declaring that visa overstay rates are “unacceptably high,” calling it a “widespread problem.”
In an effort to slow the trend, Trump ordered Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and Acting Homeland Security Secretary, Kevin McAleenan, to implement a broad series of punishments for countries whose citizens overstay their tourist and business visas more than 10% of the time.
Trump gave the State Department four months to consult with Homeland Security officials and Attorney General William Barr to recommend sanctions, which he said could include suspending or limiting visas for those countries. These restrictions will also affect student visa holders, visa waiver program participants and others.
Nigeria’s overstay rate is 15.18%. Nineteen other countries have overstay rates higher than 10%, according to the Homeland Security report. However, except for Nigeria and Syria, these countries accounted for fewer than 1,000 overstayers each.
Of all the African countries, only Nigeria posted a significant number of visa overstayers while also having a percentage that fit into Trump’s target category.
In the case of Nigeria, which could face serious visa restrictions under the new White House memorandum, DHS overstay reports say the B1/B2 visa overstay rate climbed from 3.05% in 2014 to 15.18% in 2018.
About 29, 723 Nigerians were among the 569,000 foreigners that overstayed their visas in the US.
In a Fiscal Year 2018 Entry/Exit Overstay Report by the US Homeland Security provided to the Chairman, US Senate Committee on Judiciary, out of the 195, 785 Nigerians that visited the U.S in 2018 for business or pleasure via air and sea port of entries, 29,004 refused to leave after their visit with an additional 719 Nigerians leaving after the expiration of their visas.
Analysts have questioned the criteria used by the Trump administration, as using the percentage of overstays as a measure disproportionately targets African nations while avoiding political conflicts with large, powerful countries, such as China and India.
For example, more than 34,000 Brazilians, 15,000 Chinese, 10,000 Indians and 10,000 French overstayed their visas in 2018.
Djibouti, a small nation on the Horn of Africa, has the highest visa overstay rate – but that translates into 180 of the 403 business and tourism travelers to the United States last year. Chad’s 30.8% overstay rate amounted to 165 people. Yemen, with the third-highest rate, had 518 overstayers.
Mexico, Canada, Venezuela, and other nations also have large numbers of overstays, but their rate is lower than 10% because many more travelers come from these countries.
The DHS report says Mexico had more than 43,000 overstays – a rate of 1.5% – and that Canada had 88,000 overstays, at a rate of less than 1%.
But like the list of 20 countries the DHS analyzed, the overstays reflect just travelers who arrived on airplanes or ships. Most Canadians and Mexicans who travel to the United States enter the country by land. The DHS said data for those entries will be included in future reports.
Visa overstayers account for a rising share of the newly arrived undocumented population of the US – as high as two thirds of arrivals during the past decade – largely because illegal border crossings sank to historic lows.
It is unclear how long immigrants overstay their visas, but the Pew Research Center estimated that the typical undocumented immigrant in 2016 had lived in the United States for 15 years. Other visa overstayers eventually return home or apply for legal residency through asylum or other methods.
Below is a full list of countries whose citizens overstayed their US tourist and business visas more than 10% of the time in 2018: Afghanistan, Angola, Bhutan, Burundi, Cape Verde, Chad, Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Georgia, Laos, Liberia, Mauritania, Federated States of Micronesia, Nigeria, Palau, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.