The present study investigates how semantic constraint of a sentence context modulates language-non-selective activation in bilingual visual word recognition. We recorded Dutch–English bilinguals’ eye movements while they read cognates and controls in low and high semantically constraining sentences in their second language. Early and late eye-movement measures yielded cognate facilitation, both for low- and high-constraint sentences. Facilitation increased gradually as a function of cross-lingual overlap between translation equivalents. A control experiment showed that the same stimuli did not yield cognate effects in English monolingual controls, ensuring that these effects were not due to any uncontrolled stimulus characteristics. The present study supports models of bilingual word recognition with a limited role for top-down influences of semantic constraints on lexical access in both early and later stages of bilingual word recognition.