USCIS Plays New Tunes, but the Volume Does Not Change Much

Many reforms, while useful, do nothing to lower the overall level of immigration

By David North on October 22, 2019

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is like a mighty cathedral organ; it can use many keys and keyboards and stops to produce a wide variety of melodies.

But that agency seems more interested in the notes it plays rather than the volume of the music.

This is another way of saying that many of the changes made by that agency in recent years relate more to the prosperity and the quality of the applicants, and the quality of the application, than to the number of them. And the volume remains high, with the number of new green cards remaining over a million a year.

I was reminded of this by a recent article from Law360 entitled "USCIS Adds Hurdle to Getting Special Immigrant Status", which related to yet another specialized USCIS reform, this time dealing with the largest single subclass within the Special Immigrant (EB-4) category, alien kids and teenagers seeking green cards on the grounds that their (usually alien, usually illegal) parents had abused them, either here or abroad. They must be both abused and be wards of the courts to be eligible for the green cards.

Readers may wonder why, under any circumstance, an abused alien youngster should — because of his or her bad relations with the alien parents — get permanent resident alien status, but it has been part of the system for many decades. The class of "special immigrants" has more than a dozen other sub-classes, including more attractive categories like the Afghan translators who risked their lives for us in combat and two different subgroups of religious workers.

The whole bunch, under law, merits no more than 10,000 admissions a year, with about half of them being these juveniles. There are backlogs among these young people if they come from the Northern Triangle nations or Mexico.

But back to the reform. It is a requirement, the Law360 article said, that the judge in the case "must specifically point to the state's child abandonment statute that the parent had violated" in order for the young person to get the green card. This, apparently, will prevent some of the current applicants from becoming legalized via the fourth employment-based category.

Will this lower the number of EB-4 admissions and adjustments, or will it simply create more room for other applicants for these slots? If the youngsters are from south of the border, it will cause a reduction in the waiting list, not in the number of adjustments and admissions. (As in many migration categories, the benefit is an adjustment to legal status, not an admission of a newcomer).

Moving from EB-4 to EB-5, and from dire poverty to multi-million dollar status, USCIS will, on November 21, increase the minimum investment for the immigrant investor program from $500,000 to $900,000, a useful change. This is useful because it will bring more money to the country and expand the program into hitherto neglected rural areas, but given the huge backlog in visas for Chinese and other investors, and the 10,000 visa ceiling, the change is unlikely to decrease the number of migrants using this vehicle to secure green cards.

Further, the average prosperity level of the applicants in the diversity visa lottery program will rise a bit because now they have to have a passport to apply, but this will do nothing to reduce migration as there will continue to be far more lottery players — by the millions — than the 50,000 ceiling for that program.

Somewhat similarly, the new rules against migrants who may prove to be public charges, and the provision that migrants must have health insurance, will only impact the number of arriving migrants to the extent that these new rules are deployed in the non-numerically restricted categories. To the extent that they are applied to the numerically restricted categories, all they will do is to reduce the waiting lists, not the annual rate of migration.

Some of these reforms, such as the $900,000 rule in EB-5, and the demand for passports in the diversity visa lottery, will be relatively easy to administer; others, such as in the public charge area, will gobble up staff time.

I am not opposed to these described changes, but they have virtually nothing to do with the large number of new migrants flooding the labor markets and further stressing, as large populations do, the nation's infrastructure.

It would be useful if the Department of Homeland Security and the White House started thinking in terms of numbers in its ongoing reforms. It would be useful, for example, if those entities simply abolished the Optional Practical Training Program, and opened up 300,000 generally good jobs for our college graduates, or reduced the program sharply.

Note: These comments related only to the benefit-granting operations of DHS, not the enforcement ones. The struggle at the border, for example, is a genuine effort to rein in the volume of arriving illegal migrants.