Good News: The Visa Waiting List Dropped 171,000 Between 2018 and 2019

By David North on December 31, 2020

We keep hearing of the long waiting lists for some migration applicants, notably from India and China, but somehow the news that the total waiting lists for immigration visas actually dropped by more than 171,000 between November 1, 2018 and November 1, 2019, has yet to be reported in the media.

Further substantial decreases in the following 12 months should be expected, given the impact of Covid-19, but the State Department won’t tell us about them for another year, as the reporting is slow.

The size of the waiting lists has been seized upon by those wanting to expand migration by members of Congress, as my colleague Jessica Vaughan has previously reported.

Since this is in the immigration field, things are more complicated than the decline of the number of visa waiters on a single list. There are eleven sub-lists, as we will detail later; most of the decline comes in five of the six chain migration categories of family preferences, as well as in the EB-5 (immigrant investors) class. There were slight increases in the other employment-based categories and a large one in the second family category (spouses and children of green card holders).

The total number in the family visa wait-list fell from (a rounded) 3,792,000 on November 1, 2018 to 3,620,000 a year later. Mexico with 1,207,000 visas-waiters dominates the total list, followed by four nations in the 200,000 to 300,000 range; these are the Philippines, India, China-Mainland born, and Vietnam. (Chinese born in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau are treated separately, and the lists are shorter for those places.)

These waiting lists increase when there are more new visas issued than old ones used or culled or discarded, and vice versa. The U.S., unlike every other country in the world, charges ahead and issues visas before they can be used. No other nation known to me maintains lists of visas that cannot be used now, but may be as much as twenty years later. It is an odd arrangement, and it provides an argument for those seeking Open Borders.

But a falling number is helpful to those who want to keep annual immigration down to a dull roar, below the current more than one million a year mark – the world’s largest.

The Details

How each of the eleven sub-classes of waiting lists fared is shown in the two tables that follow, one for the family classes, and the other for the employment-based ones.


Waiting List for Family-Sponsored Immigration Visas, 2018-2019
Category 11/1/18 11/1/19 Change in %
Family 1 261,704 235,728 -9.9%
Family 2A- Spouses and children 145,861 182,156 +24/9%
Family 2B - Adult sons and daughters 324,241 282,551 -12.9%
Family 3 689,924 647,236 -6.2%
Family 4 2,249,722 2,146,581 -4.6%
Total 3,671,442 3,494,252 -4.8%
Source: U.S. Department of State, Annual Report of Immigrant Visa Applicants in the Family-sponsored and Employment-based preferences Registered at the National Visa Center as of November 1, 2019.



Waiting List for Employment-Based Immigration Visas, 2018-2019
Category 11/1/18 11/1/19 Change in %
EB-1 9,266 13,065 +41.0%
EB-2 20,591 23,410 +14.2%
EB-3 skilled workers 43,385 43,725 +.08%
EB-3 other workers 7,581 7,643 +0.8%
EB-4 797 1,055 +32.4%
EB-5 (investors) 39,001 37,090 -4.9%
Total 120,531 125,988 +4.5%
Grand Total (family + employment) 3,791,973 3,620,240 -4.5%
Source: Same as prior table.      


That the size of the waiting list in the immigrant investor category declined is in keeping with the trends in all the other measures of EB-5 activity.

The Presentation 

These reports are written for immigration specialists, not for the general public. There is no discussion of why the numbers rise or fall, and there is no further description of mixed groups such as the "special immigrants" in EB-4. That many of these are not being admitted because of any labor market reasons – they are young people who have been abandoned by their (usually) illegal alien parents – is never mentioned.

Further, and this is hard to understand, while one normally compares an earlier year to a later year in that order, the charts in this report ignore that statistical tradition, and show what the backlogs were in 2019, first, and then what they were in 2018. Odd.

That there is a strong, almost a century-old rationale for these numerical ceilings is barely mentioned. The point is that we do not want our immigration streams to be dominated by one or more single nations, which would take place were we not to have the limits that we have now.

On the other hand, the limit of 7% of the total immigration for each nation means that while other countries of in-migration routinely get young immigrants, many of ours are well into middle age when they arrive. For example, should a married son or daughter of a U.S. citizen from Mexico, an F3, have filed for a green card back in 1996, he or she would finally become eligible for a visa this year; if the filing happened when the applicant was 22, he would arrive here at the age of 46, with most of this best years behind him.

The report does not mention this variable at all; one has to look in another State Department document, the monthly Visa Bulletins, to learn the number of years that a potential migrant must wait.

The Solution

Just about a year ago we drew up a several-parts plan to eliminate the waiting lists without: a) expanding the number of arrivals, while b) granting all on the list a benefit of some kind, either financial or in the form of a visa. It would allow those low on the list a chance to buy out the potential visas from those higher on the list, with a provision that the purchasers always had to buy more visas than they used. No federal funds would be spent in the process.