Chain Migration: Burdensome and Obsolete

...And Sometimes Dangerous

By Jessica M. Vaughan on December 11, 2017

[See also "Chain Migrant Charged with New York City Attack".]

UPDATE: The relative who sponsored Ullah and his family is reported to have entered originally under the visa lottery and become a US citizen. Ten years ago, in the peak year for Bangladeshi lottery winners, about 36 percent of the immigrant visas from that country went to lottery winners (3,500 out of 9,600 immigrant visas). In 2017, 99 percent of the more than 12,000 immigrant visas were family-based.

According to reports, the Port Authority bomber, Akayed Ullah, is a citizen of Bangladesh who came to the United States in February 2011 on an immigrant visa in one of the chain migration categories. Ullah qualified to enter at age 20 as the nephew of a naturalized U.S. citizen. It is unknown at this time how the naturalized uncle or aunt immigrated to the United States to begin with.

Approximately 90 percent of the immigrants from Bangladesh in the last decade have received green cards through sponsorship by a relative who immigrated earlier. Immigration from Bangladesh has risen noticeably over time; the number of immigrant visas issued to Bangladeshis was about 6,000 in 2000 and was about 12,000 in 2017. Further, there are now more than 175,000 citizens of Bangladesh on the immigrant visa waiting list, of whom just over 165,000 (94 percent) are waiting in the sibling/nephew/niece category. 

For many years citizens of Bangladesh were leading participants in the annual Visa Lottery. By 2012, Bangladesh was disqualified based on high annual numbers of green cards awarded, but even without lottery green cards, immigration has continued to rise due to chain migration green card awards.

No matter how much we improve our vetting, the sheer momentum of chain migration-driven immigration from terror-afflicted parts of the world is itself a national security risk. Trying to screen this huge annual number of chain migration applicants is a significant burden on immigration and law enforcement agencies, and causes fiscal and economic problems to boot. Congress should modernize our immigration system by sharply trimming the obsolete chain migration categories, as recommended by the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform headed by late civil rights icon Barbara Jordan, and as required by several bills pending in Congress.