Barletta Bill Makes Overstaying Visa Criminal Offense
WASHINGTON – Congressman Lou Barletta (PA-11) has reintroduced legislation to make overstaying a visa a criminal offense rather than a civil offense as federal law currently holds. Under the bill, H.R. 643, the Visa Overstay Enforcement Act, a first instance of staying in the United States beyond a visa’s expiration date would be a misdemeanor, while subsequent infractions would be felonies. The bill for the first time brings penalties for visa overstays into line with existing law for unlawfully crossing the U.S. border. This is the third time Barletta has introduced the legislation, having authored it in the two previous Congresses.
“The 9/11 Commission Report taught us that many times, valid travel documents are terrorists’ best weapons. And terrorists want two things most of all: to be able to get into this country, and to be able to stay here,” Barletta said. “Almost half of the illegal immigrants present in this country came here legally only to have their visa expire – and then never left. It’s why I have always said, if your state is home to an international airport, then you effectively live in a border state.”
The Visa Overstay Enforcement Act:
- Criminalizes the overstaying of a visa.
- Makes the first offense a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
- Makes subsequent offenses felonies, punishable by up to two years in jail, a fine of up to $250,000, or both.
- Places restrictions on future reentry by those convicted of visa overstays.
- First-time offenders may not reenter the country for five years, or be granted a new visa for ten years.
- Those with multiple visa overstay convictions may not be readmitted into the U.S. for life.
- Allows for case-by-case exceptions for individuals who overstay a visa for medical necessity, public safety, or national security.
- Provides multiple notices of a visa overstay offense by requiring the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of State to disclose the penalties to visa applicants both upon application and then upon admission.
“We know that several of the hijackers on September 11, 2001 had overstayed their visas for months before the attack,” Barletta said. “It’s time that we made this serious violation of our immigration laws more than just a civil slap on the wrist.”