2017 Chain Migration Approvals Drop

The overall number of family-based visas approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in the first 9 months of 2017 show a 25 percent year-over-year decrease. USCIS attributes the drop to an overall slowdown in the adjudication process as officials increase scrutiny on immigration law and the overall vetting process.

Through Sept. 30, 2017, USCIS approved 406,000 family-based visas compared to 530,000 the granted by the agency during the same period in the previous year, “despite a similar number of applications during both periods, USCIS data showed,” according to a report.

Where Form I-130s are concerned, the drop was even starker. I-130s, used by relatives who aren’t immediate family members, fell by 70 percent over the same timeframe. In the first 9 months of 2016, USCIS approved 108,000 of the forms. This compares to an approval rate of only 32,500 in 2017, “the lowest number of approvals for extended family visas since 2000.”

Among the critical components in President Trump’s approach to the nation’s immigration policies are diversity visas, which target countries around the world with low immigration rates to the United States, family-based visas.  Family-based visas, granted based on extended family sponsorship to the United States– chain migration– centers on “no real selection criteria” around these family-based visas as the system allows a single immigrant to “bring in dozens of increasingly distant relations,” the president says.

The president underscores the difficulties around chain migration manifest in events like the Bangladeshi man who set off a homemade pipe bomb in New York in December. In other words, chain migration amounts to a national security issue.

For Francis Cissna, the new director at USCIS, family migration chains make little sense in forming a cohesive national strategy around policy. “Those people are just coming in based on connection to a family member. The lack of selectivity– it takes us away from where we want to go as a country.”

Up to this point, USCIS officials received no specific change in policy guidance around family-based immigration. Cissna also says the agency has no plans to restrict visas for immediate family members.

The reduction in approval numbers of specific kinds of visas and immigration categories run in conjunction with a more time consuming and comprehensive vetting process. The efforts center of the agency’s fraud reduction efforts and very often leads to prolonged processing times. Cissna says the agency is looking closely at all visa categories to root out fraud. USCIS said separately that closer scrutiny could lead to longer processing times.

Another common factor adding to the wait times for approvals include things like requests for evidence. Highly-skilled workers applying for H-1B temporary work visas, for example, now face a higher bar to gain the status than requirements in the past. U.S. citizens who seek to bring their fiancés into the now face new interview requirements. In the first nine months of 2017, fiancé approvals dropped by 25 percent.

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