President Joe Biden rescinded Donald Trump’s presidential proclamation banning new immigrant visas for most new legal permanent residents coming from abroad. Trump justified the ban based on old, disproven economic protectionist arguments. He claimed immigrants would take jobs. During his campaign and in this proclamation, President Biden rejected this idea. Yet incongruously, he’s keeping an identical ban on temporary work visa holders.
The State Department issued nearly 290,000 fewer immigrant visas in the categories that the ban targeted during the year that it was in effect. If they are not from a country on which Biden has imposed a countrywide entry ban—mostly Europe, South Africa, Brazil, China, and Iran—these immigrants will now be able to immigrate to the United States. This is great news for them and for the Americans with whom they plan to associate.
Altogether, the banned categories saw a 90 percent decline in visa issuances over the last year. The family‐sponsored categories saw an average decline of 94 percent, while employees of U.S. businesses were least affected (partly due to a favorable court decision that exempted employees of members of the National Association of Manufacturers and the Chamber of Commerce). 83 percent of the banned immigrants were family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.
Spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens were exempt from the ban, but they also saw a decline in the number of visas issued due to the travel restrictions. According to a government filing this month, the State Department had nearly 473,000 documentarily qualified family‐based immigrant visa applicants—presumably some of these cases will ultimately turn into denials, but this will be a huge undertaking for the consulates to process.
- The government should use “parole‐in‐place” authority to waive the requirement to travel to consulate abroad for certain applicants who would otherwise be eligible to adjust in the United States if not for the fact that they initially entered without inspection (illegally).
- It should adjudicate applications for waivers on grounds of inadmissibility before conducting the interview to save time and streamline the process. Under the current process, the State Department waits until after they’ve taken your fingerprints, medical evaluation, and other documents and then get denied. Only then do you restart the many months‐long process of trying again.
- It should allow for remote or virtual interviews to speed the interview process. Remote immigration court hearings are already happening.
- It should waive as many interviews as possible for applicants with no red flags and a history of travel to the United States.
As Figure 1 shows, the number of immigrant visas had already declined by more than a quarter before the pandemic. This means that even without the visa bans, the new administration will have to go further to rescind the numerous restrictions on legal immigration that led to that decline.
Of course, the other major visa ban—on the most common nonimmigrant work visa categories for skilled and seasonal nonagricultural workers—is still in effect. President Biden states in his order revoking the immigrant visa ban, “The suspension of entry…. does not advance the interests of the United States. To the contrary, it harms the United States including…. industries in the United States that utilize talent from around the world.” These lines apply just as much to the nonimmigrant visa ban, yet Biden has chosen to keep it.
The nonimmigrant visa ban and immigrant visa backlog are just two of the numerous issues that Biden will have to address to get the legal immigration system back to what it was pre‐Trump. There are also country‐specific entry bans on Europe, South Africa, Brazil, China, and Iran that lack any health basis. The public charge rule to keep out low‐income immigrants is also still in force. USCIS has not reinstated its prior deference memo and so is still relitigating past approved petitions and applications in order to increase denials. The immigration forms still contain the bogus, vague, time‐consuming, and expensive “extreme vetting” questions based on a faulty reading of the data on vetting failures. At the border, Border Patrol is still “expelling” asylum seekers under a political CDC order. The immigration courts and asylum process generally is still in chaos.
With this action, the president makes his first real attempt to reinstate the system to how it once was, but he’s not even 10 percent of the way there. Still, it’s a great first step.