Dump of DHS Data Reveals Four Million 'Half-Amnestied' Aliens

By David North on August 1, 2017

The recent and welcome release of a huge amount of raw immigration data, though presented awkwardly, shows a massive half-amnestied population, probably reaching four million aliens.

None of these aliens are in illegal status currently, none have permanent legal status, and none are in employer-dominated nonimmigrant worker programs. All are in the United States and have an interim Department of Homeland Security form, the Employment Authorization Document (EAD), which allows them to work legally. The presence of each of the 58 (yes, 58) different sub-classifications of EAD holders is not new, but the huge size of the collective population is rarely discussed.

Since an EAD can be valid for a few months to many years to a lifetime (in a handful of cases), my best guess is that the estimated 2.1 million EADs expected to be issued this fiscal year suggests a current population of some four million working aliens in what I am calling "half-amnestied" status. These aliens can work legally for a while, but do not have permanent legal status, though some of them will get that status ultimately.

It's well known that the government rarely publishes population figures, but it does release work-load data such as EAD issuances, leaving the conversion of these data to population estimates to others, such as the Center.

There are three notable features of this half-amnestied population:

  1. It is huge and only consists of workers, but most of the members get temporary legal status for reasons unrelated to their skills.
  2. It is a population that is rarely discussed as a group, and overlaps only slightly with other, better-known alien worker groupings, such as legal immigrants, temporary foreign workers, and illegal aliens.
  3. Its members, on the other hand, are as free to move around the labor market as citizens or permanent resident aliens, with a handful of exceptions; they are free of ties to a given employer and free of worries about being employed illegally.

Given that last item, while this is a workers' group, it is not bound to any employer unlike the semi-indentured H classes of nonimmigrant workers, so the half-amnestied are of no special interest to those employers who like their workers to be "tethered", to use their favorite euphemism. And since employers dominate labor force discussions, this is a group rarely mentioned.

The new DHS data, shown in condensed form in the following table, indicates that the number of EAD issuances has soared from a little over 1.2 million in 2014 to an estimated 2.1 million this fiscal year.

Number of Approved Employment Authorization Documents by Basis of Eligibility, FYs 2014-2017

Class and Regulatory Base Approvals, 2014 Approvals, 2015 Approvals, 2016 Partially Estimated Approvals, 20171
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, 8 CFR 27 12 (c) 14, Executive Action 162,920 514,6782 186,902 480,400
Asylum Applicant, 8 CFR 208.7 and
8 CFR 274a
92,262 150,352 269,806 370,200
Applicant for Adjustment of Status,
8 CFR 274a 12 (c) (9) (p) (application pending)
175,476 216,394 251,993 264,800
Applicant for Adjustment of Status,
8 CFR 274a 12 (c) (9)
(application approved)
233,388 237,086 251,879 250,600
52 other classes 559,049 846,157 906,698 1,296,400
Then, at the end of the list:
Abused spouse of H worker,
INA 106
0 0 0 13
Abused spouse of alien diplomat, INA 106 0 0 0 03
Total, all 58 classes 1,223,095 1,964,667 1,867,278 2,147,000


Source: format: Center for Immigration Studies; numbers and legal citations: based on two different (and hard to read) USCIS tabulations with similar titles: "Number of Approved Employment Authorization Documents, by Classification and Statutory Eligibility October 1, 2012-June 29, 2017" and "Numbers of Approved Employment Authorization Documents by Classification and Basis for Eligibility, October 1, 2012 - June 29, 2017”. The FY 2012 and FY 2013 data in the original tables were not used in this one. The last two rows of the table (above the total) show that some of the many governmental migration programs deal with very small populations, and, if you are thinking about marrying an alien nonimmigrant worker, diplomats are marginally preferable to H class workers.

1 This is the sum of nine months of data plus an estimate for the final three months (one third of the nine-month total).

2 This reflects the initial spurt of DACA applications.

3 Not an estimate.

Because of space limitations, our table only shows six of the 58 classes, four major ones (DACAs, asylum applicants, and two subgroups of adjustees) and, for contrast, the two smallest ones (abused spouses of H workers and of diplomats). The eight next-largest groups have these estimated issuance totals for 2017:

  • Optional Practical Training (i.e., foreign college alumni), including three subsets of the OPT workers: 197,700
  • Temporary Protected Status (workers only): 164,500
  • Refugees: 94,600
  • Parolees: 68,500
  • Applicants for Suspension of Deportation: 65,200
  • Under final deportation order, but cannot be deported: 28,600
  • Asylees: 28,000
  • Spouses of L-1 (multi-national corporation) workers: 25,800

Several of these subclasses merit a few words of explanation. For example, the two adjustment of status classes are people on waiting lists to become immigrants, who are allowed to secure legal status ahead of time. This was one of many such specialized Obama administration immigration decisions. Applicants for suspension of deportation and those under final orders of deportation are illegal aliens identified by the courts, but for various reasons, such as their home nations' refusal to admit them, they are allowed to stay and to work with an EAD. The goal of the open-borders types is to keep any conversation about EADs revolving around specific subclasses of them, rather than the multiple-million total picture, and to keep talking in terms temporary documents. The table, however, shows that EADs add many millions to our work force and that the numbers keep rising, year after year. The permits may be temporary, but their labor-force loosening impact is permanent.

There has been no policy discussion of how all these separate programs add to a population that dwarfs those of the H programs, which probably produce a total of between 1.0 and 1.5 million.

The bottom-line numbers on the table showing the EAD issuances each year are misleadingly small because most EADs are good for 18 months or longer, so that the published numbers tend not to reflect the true impact of the EAD population on the labor force at any one time. These numbers, in other words, report the flow of EAD issuances this year; the stock of EADs is much larger, hence my estimate of 4 million.

The duration of EADs varies widely among the 58 subsets of them. Asylum applicants and DACAs used to get one-year EADs, now they run for two years. TPS EADs routinely run 18 months, and many others last as long as the underlying immigration status, which can extend for decades. OPT workers' EADs last either one year or three years.

The longest duration EADs go to one of the smaller population groups. Former residents of the Central Pacific quasi-nations, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau, receive life-time nonimmigrant legal status when they move to the United States; most of them are on Guam or in the Hawaiian Islands. About 400 of these workers are arriving this fiscal year.

Most of these EAD life cycles have remained in place with the new administration, though one group with TPS status, aliens from Haiti, had their most recent extension reduced from the usual 18 months to six months.

The major policy point here is that there is a huge alien workforce that remains unrecognized because it is never seen as a group, the way it should be viewed.

At the start of this blog we mentioned the awkward presentation of these data. DHS issued two different tables with approximately the same titles, neither indicating that they were partial counts of the EAD totality. The two DHS tables (links for which are shown in the text under our table) carried a virtually indigestible total of 576 cells (i.e., bits of data) and even spread over three pages the printed version is hard to use without a magnifying glass.

Further, while these tables give ample room for Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) citations, the more useful "purpose" data is squeezed sharply, and sometimes is unintelligible. Three of the 58 subsets are simply labeled "APPL for". While our version of the table shows the classes of EADs in declining order of their use as of 2017, the DHS version arrays the data along the lines of a classification system not used outside the agency.

It is great to get the information, which was hard to come by during the previous administration, but DHS should put it together in a way that is useful to policy makers and students of immigration.

USCIS: Please steal our format for these tabulations in the future!