More than 1.1 Million Secured Immigrant Status in FY 2009

By David North on April 21, 2010

A total of 1,130,818 persons obtained permanent resident alien status in fiscal year 2009; it was the first time in U.S. history that this number topped one million for the fifth year in a row.

Department of Homeland Security data on the year was released a few days ago.

While this total was up 2 percent from the previous year, what was more significant was the steady state of the numbers; there was no major influx of refugees last year, there was no jump in the total because of a one-time quirk of the immigration law. But the 1.1 million total was the fourth highest since 1914, the last year of the heavy early 20th Century migration flows.

FY 2009 was a year in which all the usual factors played out their usual roles. The U.S. is an attractive place to many would-be immigrants, the immigration law allows a lot of those wanting to migrate to do so, and even a bad economy did not reduce the flow, or at least not much.

It should be noted that more than 59 percent of the total were not new arrivals; they had come a few years to many years earlier and as a result of the immigration laws they were able, during the fiscal year, to adjust their status to that of permanent resident alien, or as DHS now prefers to say "Legal Permanent Resident." The other 41 percent were new arrivals. That ratio between the two groups was about the same in the two prior fiscal years.

Given the fact that the majority of the 1.1 million were already here, the recession did not make anywhere near as much difference as it did in the influx of H-1B temporary workers, which has dropped sharply over the last two years, as reported in a previous blog.

The number of employment-based preferences (immigrant workers and their families), however, did drop to 144,000 from167,000 (both numbers rounded) from the prior year. That decrease was more than balanced by a 31,000 increase in family preferences, to a total of 747,000.

Interestingly, the "diversity programs," to use the DHS term rather than mine (which is "casino visas"), brought in a higher percentage of the 50,000 ceiling than in the two prior years. The 2009 intake was 47,879, compared to about 42,000 in each of the two previous years. This is a variable not discussed in the report by the DHS Office of Immigration Statistics. Every year an unknown, but perhaps sizable, percentage of the visa lottery winners look at the fine print, and the associated fees, and decline the offer of a green card. They are then replaced by others in the queue but some slots are lost in the process.

The text accompanying the tables includes careful descriptions of the various immigration programs but provides little interpretation of the trends – to the extent that there are trends.

A hard copy of the annual publication, "2009 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics," will probably appear late in the summer. The 2008 edition was published in August 2009.