USCIS Stats Show Where the Administration’s Focus Is

Hint: It’s on getting ‘inadmissible’ aliens work cards, not worrying about immigrants doing it ‘the right way’

By Andrew R. Arthur on May 3, 2024

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) publishes so much data it’s often difficult to find anything. But pore over it and you can see where the administration’s real focus is: expediting employment documents for migrants who have no right to be here, not accommodating aliens doing it “the right way” or on helping American workers (both citizens and lawful immigrants) find jobs. If you’re a citizen waiting for your would-be immigrant spouse to complete the paperwork to receive a green card — keep waiting, the administration has more important people to help.

Number of Service-Wide Forms. USCIS publishes a quarterly document captioned “Number of Service-Wide Forms by Quarter, Form Status, and Processing Time”, which is basically a running tally of the applications the agency has received and completed, and the number that remain pending.

At the end of the third quarter of FY 2019, for example, it shows that USCIS had about 330,000 pending asylum applications (Form I-589), about 753,000 pending employment authorization applications (Form I-765), more than 1.5 million Petitions for Alien Relative (Form I-130), and around 35,000 Immigrant Petitions for Alien Workers (Form I-140).

One year later, at the end of the third quarter of FY 2020, the number of asylum applications waiting for adjudication sat near 374,000, there were about 604,000 employment authorization applications, about 1.45 million immediate relative petitions, and just over 47,000 pending I-140s for alien workers.

That was in the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic, and also at a point when illegal entries at the Southwest border had cratered thanks to some combination of global travel shutdowns, Title 42, and the Migrant Protection Protocols (“MPP”, better known as “Remain in Mexico”).

And then President Biden took office, and the situation at the Southwest border changed dramatically.

In FY 2019, President Trump’s last full year in office, Border Patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexico line nabbed 851,508 migrants who had entered the United States illegally. At the time, that was considered a “bad” border year.

In FY 2022, however, Biden’s first full year in office, apprehensions exceeded 2.2 million, and while 1.054 million of those aliens were expelled under Title 42, 1.152 million others were processed under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), instead. Most of them (more than 88.5 percent by my count) were released — despite the fact that the INA requires them all to be detained.

At the time, parole under section 212(d)(5)(A) of the INA was the administration’s preferred release method (and would remain so until a federal judge told the administration to cut it out in March 2023), meaning that hundreds of thousands of aliens were paroled into the United States that fiscal year.

Here’s why that matters: Unlike aliens who are detained, and aliens who are released directly into removal proceedings instead of being paroled, aliens who are paroled can apply for asylum from USCIS, and most importantly, they can apply for work authorization.

Not surprisingly, by the end of the third quarter of FY 2022, USCIS was sitting on more than 505,000 pending asylum applications and more than 1.5 million applications for employment authorization. That was in addition to 1.7 million pending immediate-relative petitions and nearly 74,000 I-140s.

By that point, USCIS had begun breaking down those employment authorization applications by class: 450,580 based on pending asylum applications; 379,034 for aliens with pending adjustment applications; 108,215 recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA); and “all other” — 574,429 pending.

The DACA applications were likely all renewals under that Obama-era “DREAM Act-lite” scheme, but those “all others” included aliens who had been paroled into the country, and in fact those aliens likely made up the lion’s share of those hundreds of thousands of pending “all other” I-765s.

Then, in January 2023, the White House announced two new parole programs for aliens without visas and no right to be in the United States: CHNV Parole, under which up to 30,000 nationals of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela monthly are allowed to fly into the United States directly; and a separate program under which up to 42,000 would-be illegal migrants are allowed to seek parole after scheduling interviews at the Southwest border ports monthly using the CBP One app (which I’ve dubbed the “CBP One app interview scheme”).

Fast forward a year and three months and here’s what USCIS’s pending applications looked like at the end of FY 2023: 1.022 million pending asylum applications; 1.934 million petitions for alien relatives; 61,000 I-140s; and 777,223 “all other” pending employment-authorization applications.

To be clear, the I-130 is the form you — as a U.S. citizen — must file to get your alien spouse a visa to come to the United States, and as the foregoing shows, if you start that process today, you’ll be getting at the end of a mighty long queue.

“Historical National Median Processing Time”. Well, you might think, maybe the Biden administration, appreciating the massive burden that it is placing on USCIS through its parole schemes, has hired a bunch of new processors and adjudicators, and that the completion process and subsequent wait aren’t that bad.

Think again. For that I turn to yet another USCIS document, this one captioned “Historical National Median Processing Time (in Months) for All USCIS Offices for Select Forms By Fiscal Year”.

Unfortunately, I-589 asylum applications are not tracked on that document, but alien relative petitions, I-765 employment authorization applications, and immigrant worker petitions are.

In FY 2019, it took USCIS 8.6 months to adjudicate I-130s, and about 10 days to adjudicate I-140s (assuming petitioners paid the rather pricey premium processing fee — 5.8 months if they didn’t).

The good news for businesses looking to get immigrant visas for their workers is that this 10-day turnaround for premium processing on I-140s has remained surprisingly consistent in the interim — plainly, you get what you pay through the nose for. But it’s the only thing that has.

The wait for an I-130 grew to 10.3 months in FY 2022, and then to 11.8 months in FY 2023. USCIS claims that the wait for an I-130 in the first quarter of FY 2024 actually dropped to 11.1 months, but that’s still longer than the 8.6 months it had been in FY 2019.

The wait time for a non-premium I-140 stretched to 9.3 months in FY 2022 and stood at 6.6 months at the end of the first quarter of FY 2024 — roughly a month longer than in FY 2019.

If you want employment authorization after you have been paroled in on one of these Biden schemes, however, I’ve got good — no great — news. You would have had to wait 6.1 months for a parole-based I-765 in FY 2019, but by FY 2021 (Biden’s first partial year in office), that was down to about 20 days.

That delay ticked up to 1.3 months by FY 2023, but not to worry — in the first quarter of FY 2024, it was down to .9 months, roughly 27 days. Sure, you have no visa and no right to enter the United States, and as the Biden administration recently admitted to Congress, you “are, by definition, inadmissible”, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a right to work here!

By the way, if you have a pending adjustment application (Form 1-485) and are on your way to a green card through lawful means (current wait time: 9.7 months for a family-based application), you “are, by definition, a sucker”: your I-765 will be delayed about four months before USCIS can accommodate you. Take a number and we’ll call you as soon as we can.

One reason why aliens without visas “are, by definition, inadmissible” is to protect the wages and working conditions of American workers. The Biden administration, however, has abandoned that concept, that is at the core of immigration law, in favor of expediting work cards for parolees, regardless of the effect that it has on American workers, and on those aliens trying to come here “the right way”.