President Donald Trump’s calls to limit chain migration have yet to gain widespread traction in Congress, but his administration’s tougher approach to immigration screening appears to be having an effect on the approval of family visa petitions.
In the last three quarters of fiscal year 2017 — a period that spans Jan. 1, 2017 to Sept. 30, 2017 — approvals for extended family visas fell by 70 percent from same period in the previous fiscal year.
Immigration authorities approved about 32,500 visa petitions for non-immediate relatives over the first nine months of 2017, according to recently released U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data. That’s compared to just over 108,000 during the same timeframe in 2016.
Under U.S. immigration law, American citizens can petition for immigrant visas for their immediate relatives, defined as spouses, unmarried children under 21, and parents. Citizens and legal permanent residents can also petition for a broader category of so-called family preference visas, reserved for the married children and siblings of citizens, and the spouses, minor children, and unmarried adult children of green card holders.
It is the latter group of visas — the family preference categories — that the Trump administration wants to limit or do away with altogether. The White House has backed an immigration reform bill known as the RAISE Act, which would eliminate the family preference categories and restrict family-based visas to the spouses, children and parents of U.S. citizens.
Trump has stepped up his attacks on extended-family immigration — what immigration hawks call chain migration — over the last week, as lawmakers negotiate provisions of a bill to replace the now-cancelled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In a meeting with top Republican senators Thursday, Trump reiterated several demands for a DACA bill, including family-based visa reform.
“Any legislation on DACA must secure the border with a wall. It must give our immigration officers the resources they need to stop illegal immigration and also to stop visa overstays,” he told senators. “And, crucially, the legislation must end chain migration.”
Such changes to immigration law would require buy-in from reluctant Republicans and at least some Democrats, who have said eliminating chain migration is a nonstarter. But even without legislative reforms, the Trump administration has succeeded in slowing visa approvals through closer scrutiny of applicants.
“Taken together, these actions may reshape the composition of immigration flows and of populations currently in the country long into the future, if the administration is consistent in carrying them out over time,” the Migration Policy Institute, a pro-immigration thin tank, wrote in a December report. “As a result, while the policy shifts so far fall short of the president’s rhetoric, they may still have profound and long-lasting effects on the U.S. immigration system.”
USCIS says it has not issued specific policy guidance to change the way family preference visas are adjudicated, reports Reuters. The agency attributed the reduction in visa approvals to normal yearly fluctuations in the number of petitions that are filed.
Even so, the number of approvals for all family visas — immediate relative and family preference — fell by about a quarter in the first nine months of 2017. There were 406,000 family visa petitions approved from January to September, down from 530,000 during the same period the year before.
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