Visa backlog dissected

Processing times for visas have generally increased. The increases began before the pandemic, for instance by 2019. Go here for the USCIS’s own website for estimating processing delays by type of visa and USCIS office. (Example, Green Card award (form 485) in Texas: 14 to 42 months.)

Trump threw sand into the visa processing machine. Here is an April 22, 2020 executive order suspending all visa awards.

April 12, 2021 CNN reports: in February 2017, just after Trump took office, there was a backlog of 2,312 family-preference visa applications, according to Rebecca Austin, assistant director of the National Visa Center at the State Department. Each of the next three years, that backlog more than doubled and doubled again, reaching 26,737 by Feb. 8, 2020. Then, due to the pandemic closures, by February 8 of this year, the backlog leaped to nearly 285,000, she said in a declaration to a federal court in California.

May 24, 2021 Boundless reports: In recent years, overall application processing times have surged by 25%, despite a roughly 10% decrease in overall filings received by USCIS. “This incredible increase in processing times is directly tied to several policies implemented in the past four years by the agency itself,” wrote Boundless. To tackle the backlog, Boundless recommends that USCIS overturn inefficient policies and procedures, such as eliminating unnecessary interviews and rescind harmful regulations that serve only to penalize U.S. employers, non-citizens, asylum applicants, and unaccompanied minors.

October 15, 2021. Cato reports: The State Department remains a major barrier to reopening the United States to legal travel and immigration. As of mid‐October, 60 percent of consulates remained fully or partially closed to anything other than emergency nonimmigrant visa appointments, and 40 percent are completely closed to non‐emergency nonimmigrant visa appointments, according to the State Department’s website. Nonimmigrant visas are used by temporary foreign workers, students, business travelers, tourists, and others.

Worse still, the State Department has essentially stopped making any progress toward fully reopening nonimmigrant (i.e. temporary) visa processing with only 2 percent of consulates entering fully open status since August, and no decrease at all in the share (40 percent) that are fully closed to nonemergency nonimmigrant appointments. The fully open consulates (40 percent) are reporting wait times of, in many cases, six months or longer for some nonimmigrant visas.

December, 2021 State Dept suspends interview requirements for some visas.

January 1, 2022 Boundless reports that the USCIS had a net backlog of 2.5 million visa cases at the end of FY2019. Fiscal and staffing problems, pandemic-related office closures, and an inability to receive or process most application types electronically resulted 6.1 million pending cases by end of FY 2020. The backlog at grew to more than 8 million pending cases at the end of FY2021.


Threatened population expulsions as a strategy of conflct

One aspect of international migration, analyzed here, is the strategy of one country to threaten, or deter, other countries by coerced migration of some of its population. In 1978- 1982 Bangladesh sought (successfully) to deter Burma (the target) from expelling Muslims. In the 1990s Vietnam used the threat of out-migration to induce (successfully) the European Community and the United States (the targets) for economic aid. Often expulsions took place as part of a strategy against other countries, such as Asians from Uganda during the regime of Idi Amin.

After 1948 (the study covers until 2006) coercive engineered out migration happened on average one time a year. Well over 40 groups of displaced people have been used as pawns in at least 56 discrete attempts at coercive engineering migration since the advent of the 1951 United States refugee convention alone. Coercive engineering migrations are those cross-border population movements that are deliberately created or manipulated in order to induce political, military and economic concessions from a target state or states.

In three of the 56 attempts East Germany during the Cold War was the instigator. A few involved the Western Hemisphere. Most were in Asia. The targets often were more powerful countries such as the United States and the EU.

These attempts were in violation of international law: the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees, and the 1967 protocol relating to the status of refugees.

Coercive engineered migration can be exercised by three distinct types of challengers. (1) Generators directly correlate or threaten to create cross-border population movement unless targeted and see if their demand. (2) Agent provocateur do not create crises directly, but rather deliberately act in ways design to instigate others. Many see themselves as engaging in the kind of altruistic Machiavellianism, Opportunists play no direct role in the creation of migration crises, but simply exploit the efforts of others.

Global remittances back up in 2021

Remittances to low- and middle-income countries are projected to have grown a strong 7.3 percent to reach $589 billion in 2021. Remittances declined by only 1.7 percent in 2020 despite a severe global recession due to COVID-19. (Go here and here.) Global remittances in 2000 were $100 billion.

The dominance of the U.S. and the Gulf as the source of remittances stems from the fact that they have the largest working immigrant populations – the U.S. largely due to Latin American workers and the Gulf due to temporary workers from India and elsewhere in Asia. The largest deployment of foreign workers in the world are in the U.S. and the Gulf states.

The Gulf states are extremely dependent on temporary foreign workers. Overall, the number of non-displaced, international migrants living in the Middle East grew by 61% between 2005 and 2015, from about 19 to 31 million. Sources of worker include Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Yemen. Two thirds of these migrants are in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. (Go here and here.)

Growth in remittance flows has been exceptionally strong (21.6 percent) in Latin America and the Caribbean. This may be due to the exceptionally strong U.S. economic recovery.

The cost of sending money across international borders remained high, around 6.4 percent on average in the first quarter of 2021. Remittance costs tend to be higher when remittances are sent through banks than through digital channels or money transmitters offering cash-to-cash services.

A muted Merry Christmas

The Census of 1790: 800K white males 16 and over, 800K males under 16, 1,556K white females. The photo below is of 4 of the 15 million mostly European immigrants who arrived between 1880 and 1910.

1790 persons subjected to forced migration and slavery: 700K first and later generations of Africans. 

Residents subjected to genocide and disease caused deaths: Native Americans were not counted in the Census until 1860. I cannot find an estimate of the number in the late 18th Century. California Indians declined by 90% during the 19th century, from 250,000 + in the early 19th century to about 15,000 at the end of the century, mostly due to disease.





Four questions about chain migration.

What is it?

A single example: Barket Farah, who entered the U.S. in 2016 as a Somali refugee, reunited with his father in Portland, Maine. He has been trying to bring over his wife and three children, who have been living in the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.

Over the past 150 years, the great majority of immigrants have come to the U.S. through connection with family and friends of prior immigrants. This is called chain migration, although usually the term is used only to apply to immediate family members. The term started to be used in the 1980s. The official record before the last few decades is spotty. But anecdotes and personal family history indicate that, in the last major wave of immigration, in the 1890s – 1910s, chain migration was the norm.

Who is concerned about chain migration?

Who would consider it a problem for an individual who has immigrated to the U.S. to bring in her or his parents and children? Don’t we believe in the family unit?

Immigration restrictionists focus on chain migration by families (family reunification) in the past 30 years. For example, “Over the last 35 years, chain migration has greatly exceeded new immigration.” Their concern is based on (1) too many immigrants, and (2) immigration policy that does not weigh economic merit scoring enough. The large majority of immigrants since the 1965 reform act has been family based.

However the dominance of family based immigration has been a bipartisan concern for decades. In the 1990s, the Jordan Commission on Immigration called for a shift to merit based immigration.

A proposed immigration reform act in 2013 would have eliminated access to visas for siblings and children over the age of 30. This bill was the last instance of a bipartisan effort for comprehensive immigration reform.

The best, really the only way to deal with chain migration is through a bipartisan consensus.

Why is immigration so family based?

Congressional conservative objected to merit based immigration during debate for the 1965 immigration, expecting that would favor Asians. They thought that family-based immigration would favor European immigration due to the fact that current immigrants were overwhelmingly Europeans.

How extensive is chain migration?

One report says that out of 33 million immigrants admitted to the United States from 1981 to 2016, about 20 million were chain migration immigrants (61 percent). The largest categories of chain migration are spouses and parents of naturalized U.S. citizens because admissions in these categories are unlimited by law. Each new immigrant sponsored an average of 3.45 additional immigrants.

Mexico has the highest rate of chain migration. In the most recent five-year cohort of immigrants studied (1996-2000), each new Mexican immigrant sponsored 6.38 additional legal immigrants.

US population growth nil

U.S. population growth between April 2020 and March 2021 was 0.13% This is the lowest growth rate in the country’s history. Population growth between 2000 and the recent years has been about 0.8% – 1% per year.  Had immigration rates been what they were in the mid 2010s, the population gain would have been about 0.4%, and additional of three quarters of a million persons. Still lower than in the past, due in part to COVID mortality.

From the U.S. Census:

The nation’s population increased from 331,449,281 to 331,893,745, a gain of 444,464, or 0.13%. the lowest rate since the nation’s founding. The slow rate of growth can be attributed to decreased net international migration, decreased fertility, and increased mortality due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Using a slightly different metric, the Census says that between July 1, 2020, and July 1, 2021, net international migration (244,622 – the number of people moving in less those leaving) exceed exceeded natural increase (148,043).

This is a drop from last decade’s high of 1,049,000 between 2015 and 2016. This is also lower than the 477,000 added between 2019 and 2020, which overlapped with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Trump crackdown on immigration.

From here and here.

Child separations at Mexican border: a time line

Much of this time line comes from here.

2017: In El Paso, adults who crossed the border without permission – a misdemeanor for a first-time offender – are detained and criminally charged. No exceptions are made for parents arriving with young children. The children were taken from them, and parents were unable to track or reunite with their children because the government failed to create a system to facilitate reunification. By late 2017, the government was separating families along the length of the U.S.-Mexico border, including families arriving through official ports of entry.

May 7, 2018: the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announces it had implemented a “zero tolerance” policy, dictating that all migrants who cross the border without permission, including those seeking asylum, be referred to the DOJ for prosecution. Undocumented asylum seekers were imprisoned, and any accompanying children under the age of 18 were handed over to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which scattered them among 100 Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shelters and other care arrangements across the country.

June 15, 2018: For the first time, DHS publicly acknowledges that it separated nearly 2,000 children from their parents or legal guardians between April 19 and May 31. The government’s protocol for reunifying families has yet to be made clear.

June 17, 2018: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tweets, falsely: “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.”

June 18 2018: Tweet by Stephen Miller: “It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry.” 

June 20, 2018: Reacting to mounting public pressure, President Trump signs an executive order directing DHS to stop separating families except in cases where there is concern that the parent represents a risk to the child. Trump falsely blames Congress, the courts and previous administrations for his family separation policy.

June 26, 2018: U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw issues a preliminary injunction requiring U.S. immigration authorities to reunite most separated families within 30 days and to reunite children younger than 5 within two weeks.

Oct. 15, 2018: The government reports to a court that a total of 2,654 children have been separated from their parents, and of that number, 2,363 have been discharged from custody. 125 children made the decision to pursue asylum in the U.S. without their parent.

Jan. 17, 2019: The list of families to be reunified is “still being revised” nearly six months after reunification is ordered by a federal court,

April 6, 2019: The government says in court documents that it may take two years to identify potentially thousands of children who’ve been separated from their families at the southern border.

Aug. 21, 2019: DHS and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announce a new rule that would end the Flores settlement, a consent decree in place for more than two decades that limits the length of time migrant children can be detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to 20 days, requires the government to comply with certain standards of care, and states that children must be placed in the “least restrictive” setting appropriate for their age and needs. The Trump administration’s rule would allow it to indefinitely detain migrant families who crossed the border without authorization.

Sept. 27, 2019: U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee of the Central District of California rejects the administration’s plan to end the Flores settlement.

October 3, 2019: The American Civil Liberties Union and partners file a federal lawsuit (A.I.I.L. v. Sessions) seeking damages on behalf of thousands of traumatized children and parents who were forcibly torn from each other under the Trump administration’s practice of separating families at the border.

February 2, 2021: President Biden signs executive order 14011 to establish the interagency task force on the reunification of families.

June 8, 2021: The task forces counts 3,913 children of having been separated. Of the 3,913 children, 1,786 have been reunified with a parent, mostly during Trump’s tenure, parents of another 1,965 have been contacted and the whereabouts of 391 have not been established. Many who have been contacted were released to other family members.

Sept 30, 2021: The task force issues an interim report: As of September 23, the task force has identified 3948 children who were separated from their parents by the department of Homeland Security at the United States Mexican border between July 1, 2017 and January 20, 2021. The task force is aware of 410 children who were returned to the home country, some with in some without their parents, and 1,707 parents who were returned to their home country, some with and some without their children. The task force confirm that 2171 children have been reunified with the parents in the United States; in addition, the task force has reunified 50 children. There are 1,727 children who have not been reunified to the task force’s knowledge and 50 children who are in the process of being unified by the task force.

December 16, 2021: The Biden administration abandons negotiations over compensation for plaintiffs in ACLU class action suit filed October 3, 2019.

Global Refugees today: 28 million, a tiny fraction permanently resettled

The world promulgated the Convention on refugees in 1951 (in the wake of WW 2) and a Protocol in 1967. These have been the framework ever since. The UN summarizes these agreements “the key legal documents that ….define the term ‘refugee’ and outlines the rights of refugees, as well as the legal obligations of States to protect them. The core principle is that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom….This is now considered a rule of customary international law. States are expected to cooperate with us in ensuring that the rights of refugees are respected and protected.”

The agreements do not prescribe the refugee intake process of countries. Thus, the Trump Administration could cut by over 75% the number of refugees admitted (from a prevailing level of about 100,000) without being in technical violation of the agreements.

The UN promulgated a Global Compact in 2018. Summarized by the Migration Policy Institute, the compact has four main objectives—to ease pressure on host (typically emerging) countries, enhance refugees’ self-reliance, expand access to permanent resettlement elsewhere, and support conditions allowing refugees to safely return to their countries of origin.

The global population of refugees grew by 3.5 million between 2016 and 2021, and most had the right to work and freedom of movement in their host countries. But the vast majority of refugees were still being hosted in developing countries, and most refugees lived in poverty even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The total number of displaced persons doubled from the 2000s to 82 million in 2020. Most of them are internally displaced. There now about 28 million outside their country of origin. As I noted here, about 8 million of them are associated with American military interventions.

In 2020, the top countries of residence for refugees and asylum seekers were Turkey (with 3.9 million), Jordan (3 million), Palestine (2.3 million), Colombia (1.8 million), and Germany (1.5 million). These are not permanently resettled figures. The number of permanently resettled persons 2015 – 2020 was only about 400,000, of which the United States was responsible for half. Permanent resettlement can take very long. One milestone is the full entrance of the refugee into the workforce. I’ve been told that it takes seven years for refugees in Sweden to gain full work rights.

How immigration policy degenerated into unilateral action

For some ten years, immigration policy has lost any serious bi-partisan character and has become a weapon wielded by the parties. This happened as popular partisanship on immigration become much more severe.

Immigration legislative and executive branch actions have not been logically corelated to the facts, such as overall trends in unauthorized persons and enforcement. Total unauthorized population as declined since before the financial crisis. Illegal immigration: arrests rose under Obama (mainly by aggressive targeting persons with criminal records); declined under Trump. The immigration court backlog surged under Trump. No serious initiative was made to improve workforce enforcement through mandatory verification of legal status (e-Verify).

DACA was introduced in 2012 by Obama executive order. (see history since initial Executive Order of June 15, 2012).

A thousand descreet executive actions were taken by Trump to curtail immigration, from attempting to destroy the refugee resettlement infrastructure in the country to increasing fees for Green Card holder eligible for citizenship to naturalize. (Each action tracked and Biden reversals).

This year, various bills were submitted (go here) but there was no seirous attempt at bipartisan agrement (as has been tried in 2007, 2013, 2017 and most recently in 2018). Democrats instead have tried to legalize the majority of unauthorized persons through a simple majority reconciliation bill, without any Republican votes in the the House and Senate. This has involved exploiting old obscure provisions in immigration law.

The Senate parliamentarian opined in September about the initial effort. Dems then considered a “registry” strategy, and then attempted a parole provision. The Senate Parliamentarian’s opinion on December 16 nixed the parole approach. Excerpt from her opinion:

“The proposed parole policy is not much different and in its effect than the previous proposals we have considered. In order to effectuate the policy, the parole proposal changes the contours of the current parole in place program, making it a mandatory award status for qualifying applicants rather than the current discretionary use of the [Homeland Security] Secretary’s authority and assessment, which the USCIS website states that the Secretary grants ‘only sparingly.” The grant of parole will be accompanied by mandatory issuance of work authorization, travel documents, and a deeming of qualifications for real ID….”

How US immigration leadership is balkanized in the Executive Branch

From the Center for Migration Studies:

Immigration leadership responsibilities are nested at the third tier down within several federal departments, with no coordinating council.

The federal departments tasked with immigration responsibilities are so dispersed that it foments balkanization. Within the Department of Homeland Security, the Commissioner of CBP (Customs and Border Protection, the Director of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and the Director of USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) currently are among two dozen DHS officials — including the leadership of Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Secret Service, the Transportation Security Administration, and the US Coast Guard — that report to the DHS Deputy Secretary.

At the State Department, the Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs (approving visas) reports to the Under Secretary for Management, and the Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration reports to the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.

Within the Department of State, the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration has primary responsibility for formulating policies on population, refugees, and migration, and for administering the US international refugee assistance and admissions programs

The Office of Refugee Resettlement is within the Administration for Children and Families in Health and Human Services.

EOIR (Executive Office for Immigration Review, or immigration courts) reports to the Dept of Justice Deputy Attorney General, and the Immigrant and Employee Rights Section is part of the Civil Rights Division that reports to the Associate Attorney General at the Justice Department.

At the Labor Department, the Office of Foreign Labor Certification (temporary work visa certifications) is housed in the Employment and Training Administration, which is one of 21 agencies that report to the Deputy Secretary. Similarly, the Wage and Hour Division (also for temporary work visa management), reports to the Deputy Secretary of Labor.

As a consequence, immigration leadership responsibilities are nested at the third tier down within these federal departments and are dispersed across eight agency heads. These agency heads report to deputy secretaries that have many other important departmental responsibilities. In other words, there is no clear chain of command for immigration governance.

The dispersed system of immigration governance already begs for reorganization. An expanded governance would best be led by an Interagency Council on Immigration, staffed by top officials from each department. A strong council could coordinate the administration of laws and could recommend policies to ensure more coherent governance. It could even establish a clear chain of command, especially in times of migrant emergencies (such as the 2014 influx of Central American children). That said, a strong council is unlikely due to bureaucratic turf battles.

Source: The Center for Migration Studies, Immigration Governance for the 21St Century