The Knock-On Impacts of Trump's Immigration Policies in the Years Ahead

By David North on November 10, 2020

Let's assume that: A) President Trump leaves the White House; and B) the Biden administration will be more welcoming of immigrants than the current one.

What will the lingering, or knock-on, impacts of the Trump migration policies be? My tea leaves suggest the following elements will operate in a migration-restraining manner:

  • Chain migration related to those not admitted will be a continuing factor for years to come;
  • Some of the new regulations will stay in place;
  • More of the Trump regulations will be reversed, but this is a slow process;
  • Foreign students who opted not to come in 2019 and 2020 will stay away; and
  • Existing backlogs of undecided applications will be slow to unwind.

These restricting factors will stay with us for several years, though they may be overshadowed by a large amnesty or a massive increase in refugee numbers. But, as my colleague Steven Camarota wrote recently, international migration is not an uncontrollable phenomenon — policy matters.

Let's look at each of these five factors more closely.

Chain Migration. The admission of an immigrant, a refugee, or an asylee means that overseas relatives of those aliens often arrive in the years that follow; since this is the case, lowering the number of new arrivals in year A means a decrease in follow-on arrivals in years B, C, D, E, and F; this will be a continuing factor, but one that diminishes with the passage of time. Since we are dealing with, by definition, an invisible population, this effect will be hard to measure, but it will be there anyway.

Some Trump Regulations Will Linger. Some of the new Trump rules — there are lots and lots of them — will be retained by the new administration, either because they are obviously good ideas, or will not be regarded as so unacceptable to warrant the trouble of reversing them.

Let me suggest a couple of examples. The long overdue decision that people on tourist visas should not take regular jobs in the American economy is an obviously excellent move. I can see little likelihood that the "B-1 in lieu of H-1B" pattern, knocked out a few weeks ago by the Trump administration, will be revived.

Similarly, there were the long-studied changes in the EB-5 (immigrant investor) program, increasing the amount that aliens had to pay for this kind of visa (usually from a minimum of $500,000 to a minimum of $900,000) and eliminating the economic gerrymandering that put so many of these investments in glitzy urban settings. In this case, the new Trump regulation has a lot in common with an earlier set of regulations proposed by the Obama administration.

More Trump Regulations Will, Slowly, Be Reversed. Many other Trump era regulations will be modified or eliminated completely by the new administration, but this is a time-consuming process. First, a highly detailed, often over 100-page, proposed rule change must be written and approved at various levels of the Department of Homeland Security and cleared with the Office of Management and Budget; then it must be published in the Federal Register and comments solicited; then those comments must be examined with some care, and the original document revised if need be before the new regulation is finalized.

Foreign Students. The number of foreign students in the U.S. was declining, even before the Covid-19 pandemic. About this time last year, we reported these declines in foreign students from the prior year:

  • Foreign undergraduates: 431,930, a 2.4 percent decrease;
  • Foreign graduate students: 377,943, a 1.3 percent decrease; and
  • Those in non-degree programs: 62,341, a 5.0 percent decrease.

Think how those numbers must have dropped since that report was released.

When an alien student decides where to go for undergraduate or graduate school, she or he is making a multi-year decision. Thus, decisions by freshman students to go abroad typically impact the number of such students for four years. Even if the virus crisis goes away, it will be years before the number of foreign students (who often become foreign workers) is restored to earlier levels.

Existing Backlogs of USCIS Applications. Again, quite apart from the Covid-19 variable, the number of undecided (i.e., pending) USCIS cases rose from about 4.7 million in the first quarter of FY2017 to 5.7 million in the first quarter of FY2020, or by one million. In many cases, this slowed the pace of in-migration and lowered the number of migrants in the U.S.

It will take a financially stretched USCIS a long time to reduce that backlog to the pre-Trump levels.

In summary, the impact of the Trump-era decisions (and one million non-decisions) will be with us for a long time to come.