In reaction to the COVID-19 crisis, President Trump signed a presidential proclamation ordering a ban on nearly all new immigrant visas for new prospective U.S. permanent residents last week. The Cato Institute received new data from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that show that legal entries through America’s airports by non-U.S. citizens had already been almost eliminated weeks before the president’s order.
Before the latest ban, the State Department had already suspended new non‐emergency visas, and the president had already banned most entries from China, Iran, Europe’s Schengen Area, Ireland, and Britain. The first full day that the ban was in effect was February 3 for China, March 3 for Iran, March 14 for Europe’s Schengen Area, and March 17 for Ireland and Britain. The visa suspension started worldwide on March 20.
The CBP data detail the citizenship status of all international air arriving passengers by originating airport from October 1, 2019 to April 7, 2020. On April 7, the government recorded just 3,430 international air admissions by non-U.S. citizens down from a daily average of 185,977 during the first quarter of FY 2020 (October through December 2019)—a 98 percent reduction (Figure 1).* Note that noncitizens include legal permanent residents of the United States whose homes are here. U.S. citizen travel has fallen by an almost equal amount from a daily average of 154,068 in the first quarter of FY 2020 to 6,481 on April 7—a decline of 96 percent.
Figure 2 shows the change in daily air admissions by citizenship from the 1st quarter of FY 2020. Noncitizen admissions had declined 47 percent on March 13, the day before the Europe Schengen ban, and 80 percent on March 19, the day before the visa suspension. The decline reached 90 percent on March 23. U.S. citizen admissions fell below 90 percent on March 28—five days later.
The president’s latest proclamation claims credit for a phenomenon that had already occurred. Perhaps knowing that the pandemic had already almost entirely eliminated international travel, the president focused the proclamation on the period after the pandemic has subsided, justifying the ban on economic grounds. This justification holds no water, but it can be said definitely that it was utterly unnecessary given the current reality.
*Noncitizen admission numbers were updated to reflect 38 admissions without a recorded origin country.