Does the Sloppy Growth in Migration Backlogs Balance the Increase in Illegals?

The total number of backlogged applications recently grew from 8,037,000 to 8,753,000

By David North on October 18, 2022

Recently released USCIS data shows that the Biden administration has allowed the multi-million backlog in migration petitions to grow by nearly 9 percent over the most recent 12-month period.

Naturalization backlogs, on the other hand, shrank by more than 20 percent. Maybe an election is coming.

Does the administrative sloppiness of USCIS cause enough fewer admissions to balance the results of the enforcement sloppiness of ICE? We will return to that shortly.

The total number of undecided (or backlogged) applications, of all kinds, grew from 8,037,000 at the end of the fourth quarter of 2021 to 8,753,000 a year later, with all numbers rounded to the nearest thousand.

In the same period, the number of undecided naturalization petitions dropped from 834,000 to 666,000. In the last quarter for which we have data, the government ground out 246,000 naturalization approvals. Most new naturalizations lead to potential voter eligibility, except for those under the age of 18.

We traced the decision-making for all USCIS petitions and for the most common ones (petitions for alien relatives, for replacement of lost green cards, and for naturalization) in the table below.

The numbers follow steady patterns; the backlog decreased in each of the quarters noted for naturalizations, while they increased steadily in the other three categories. This cannot be an accident.

Changes in Major USCIS Backlogs in the
Most Recent 12 Months (in thousands)

Category Q4 2021 Q1 2022 Q2 2022 Q3 2022 Pct.
All 8,037 8,408 8,566 8,753 8.90%
Petition for Alien Relative 1,520 1,586 1,622 1,699 11.70%
Replace Green Card 625 725 886 1,010 61.20%
Naturalization 834 792 746 666 -22.20%

Source: “All USCIS Application and Petition Form Types”, at the CIS Immigration Data Portal.

Immigration backlogs cut several ways. A large and growing set of backlogs, as we have now, in many instances presents an inconvenience to an otherwise eligible applicant for something as well as a suggestion that the government is not doing its job. A lack of backlogs, which is theoretically possible, but only theoretically, would have government staff twiddling their collective thumbs as they wait for the mail person to deliver some more work.

On the other hand, since USCIS says yes to about 90 percent of its applications, a large and growing backlog delays some immigration directly, and more indirectly. If an alien relative is not admitted for, say, 18 months, that reduces the inflow of migrants in the near term. It also slows things down in the future, as that alien cannot file for the admission of another one (in chain migration) until another, say, 18 months pass.

Hence a conflict between the interests of the individual alien, on one hand, and the public’s need for limited immigration on the other.

Another way of looking at the backlogs is that the administration, on one hand, is being sloppy about enforcing the immigration law at the southern border, thus increasing migration, while at the same time decreasing migration by being sloppy with the backlogs.

The volume of these two movements are probably not equal, with the illegal immigrants outnumbering the backlogged legal immigrants. The additional illegal immigrants in the most recent year have been estimated at between one and two million, while the reduction in legal migration cannot be over the 700,000 increase in the backlogs, as many of these petitions do not lead to new entrants.

Since most USCIS operations are fee-funded and since USCIS sets its own fees, USCIS has only itself to blame for backlogs reducing alien admissions at a time when the White House is avidly for more migration, an interesting situation. The agency, however, though it is not reflecting its bosses’ immigration policies in this instance, has reflected them when it comes to naturalizations, a small part of its workload.