Why Not Place Some Numerical Limits on Nonimmigrant Admissions?

By David North on November 30, 2009

The U.S. has been putting numerical limits on most classes of immigrant admissions since the 1920s. There are qualitative rules but no numerical limits for most classes of nonimmigrants – i.e., temporary visitors, like tourists, students, or businessmen.

Given that roughly 40 percent of the illegal alien population in the U.S. consists of visa abusers – i.e., former holders of once-valid nonimmigrant visas – why not set numerical limits on those particular flows of nonimmigrants that contribute most heavily to our illegal alien population?

The system I have in mind would not touch any visa-issuances in the 35 wealthy nations now included in the visa-waiver program (the likes of France, Germany, Japan, and the UK). It would leave undisturbed the flows of these tourists. For a list of the visa-waiver countries see here.

Similarly, it would not touch the numerous specialized nonimmigrant categories that give us no trouble – for example, we do not have many illegal aliens who used to be diplomats (A), persons in religious occupations (S), or NATO officials (NATO).

What it would do would be to place a numerical limit, country by country, on those nations and on those visa classes that give us substantial numbers of illegal aliens, notably people with B visas (mostly tourists), and those with F or M visas (foreign students).

It would work like this, using Honduras as an example. This Central American country, like its neighbors, sends us, in addition to legitimate nonimmigrants and immigrants, some visa abusers, and some EWIs through Mexico (those who Enter Without Inspection – i.e., sneak across the border). We are building physical walls against the future arrival of those entering without inspection; I propose to build some barriers to limit the number of potential visa abusers as well.

The concept is simple, and will be resisted vigorously by the State Department, the travel industry, and the low-income nations who do not qualify for visa waivers. We will set a limit of, say, three times the average annual issuances in Honduras of these visas: B-1/B-2 (business and pleasure), B-2 (pleasure only), F (college students), and M (vocational students and potentially, if not now, a problem classification). Or we could simply double the usual annual number of issuances and use that as the upper bound.

Those suggested limits – based on 2008 Visa Office data times three – would allow the cumulative future issuance of some 62,000 B-1/B-2 visas, 13,500 B-2 visas, and 1,500 visas in the F and M classes in Honduras, but for every one issued, the cumulative potential nation-wide total would decrease by one. The only way that the total figure could be cease to decrease would be by people holding valid visas returning them for a $50 or $100 refund fee. Visas currently are not returned to the U.S. when they expire. (The State Department's fee schedule would need to be refigured, upwards, to make this a no-loss system for State.)

Given the likelihood that some Hondurans would become visa abusers in the States in the years to come, the potential supply of visas in these classes would fall, and the people in Honduras wanting U.S. visas would then have only their ex-neighbors to blame for the lack of visas. It would take several years before it would make much of a difference, but then immigration management is a long-term process.

In the end we would place an effective and absolute cap on the number of post-reform visa abusers from Honduras at 77,000, based on the limits suggested above. That is a large number but there is no current numerical limit on the extent of future visa abusers from Honduras, or from any other country.

Correction: My earlier blog on a federal judge's decision on extending the normal U.S. immigration law to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands was, at best, muddled. Yes, the Judge dealt the Marianas' go-it-alone immigration policy a fatal blow, but it was more complicated than I described. Judge Paul L. Friedman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia handed down two related decisions, not one. In the major one he upheld the congressional and presidential decision to extend the Immigration and Nationality Act to the Marianas as of midnight, Friday, November 27; on the other hand he ruled that the interim regulations issued by the Department of Homeland Security in that connection were not to go into effect because the Department had failed to go through an adequate notice-and-comment process.

DHS now faces a renewed regulation-setting process, and the Marianas government is sure to complain about any regulatory uncertainties – uncertainties they brought on themselves by their suit in the federal courts. As of this morning (November 30) no notice of appeal, by either side, has been filed on the federal courts/ electronic reporting system, PACER.