Immigration Application Denial Rates Jump 37% Under Trump

New data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency that adjudicates immigration applications, show that denials have jumped significantly. The data for the first nine months of Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, which started in October 2017, show that denials for all manner of immigration benefits—travel documents, work permits, green cards, worker petitions, etc.—increased 37 percent since FY 2016.

As Figure 1 shows, the denial rate increased from 8.3 percent to 11.3 percent from FY 2016 to FY 2018. These statistics exclude citizenship applications and include all other immigration forms except for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protective Status programs, because they provide status to illegal immigrants, and President Trump has tried to cancel them almost completely. But the trends are similar regardless.

Figure 1: Denial Rate for Immigration Applications

Figure 2 details the number of denied applications by year, with the FY 2018 projection based on the first nine months of the year. On an absolute basis, FY 2018 will see more than about 155,000 more denials than FY 2016. 

This year has seen the highest denial rate of the years for which data is available since FY 2013 (see Table 1 below). Denial rates increased from FY 2016 to FY 2018 in 19 of the 26 benefits categories for which the information was available for all years. These include the most important benefits categories like those for requesting foreign workers, applying for green cards, and asking for authorization to work or travel.

Figure 2: Total Denials for Immigration Applications

Most dramatically, the rate of denial increased for advanced parole from 7.2 percent to 18.1 percent (Figure 3). Advanced parole gives immigrants on temporary statuses advanced permission to reenter the country after a temporary departure abroad. Skilled immigrants use advanced parole to travel abroad and avoid losing their pending green card applications.

Figure 3: Denial Rate for Advanced Parole Applications

The denial rate for I-129 nonimmigrant worker petitions increased from 16.8 percent to 22.6 percent from FY 2016 to FY 2018 (Figure 4). Employers use the I-129 to request a foreign temporary worker to perform jobs in the United States. Common categories include the H-2A for agricultural workers and the H-1B for high-skilled workers.

Figure 4: Denial Rate for I-129 Nonimmigrant Worker Petitions

The denial rate for employment authorization documents jumped 6 percent to 9.6 percent from FY 2016 to FY 2018 (Figure 5). Employment authorization documents (EADs) are awarded in a variety of contexts. USCIS approved nearly 2 million EADs in FY 2015. These include immigrants with asylum claims or adjustment of status applications pending more than 180 days. Students may work through Optional Practical Training program. The spouses of H-1B skilled workers can seek EADs in some circumstances, a practice that the Trump administration has announced plans to end.

Figure 5: Denial Rate for I-765 Employment Authorization Document Applications

The denial rate for I-485 employment-based adjustment of status to permanent residence (i.e. a green card) rose from 5.9 percent to 7.9 percent from FY 2016 to FY 2018 (Figure 6). These applications are primarily from employees of U.S. businesses who are in the United States in temporary statuses, primarily the H-1B.

Figure 6: Denial Rate for I-485 Employment-Based Adjustments to Permanent Residence

Family-sponsored applications were not spared either. USCIS rejected petitions for fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens at a rate of 21 percent, up from 13.6 percent in FY 2016 (Figure 7). This is one of the only categories that saw the most significant increase in denials occur in FY 2017 rather than FY 2018. This could be based on the erroneous belief that the I-129F is more dangerous than other categories simply because the San Bernardino shooter was a fiancée of a U.S. citizen and used the K-1 visa category to enter the country. This coincidence hardly justifies cracking down on fiancées of U.S. citizens. 

Figure 7: Denial Rate for I-129 Petition for Alien Fiancé(e)

The denial rate for I-485 family-sponsored adjustments to permanent residence (i.e. a green card) increased from 10.2 percent to 13 percent from FY 2016 to FY 2018 (Figure 8). These applications are primarily from spouses and parents of U.S. citizens in the United States in temporary statuses (or possibly no status) who are seeking to become legal permanent residents.

Figure 8: Denial Rate for I-485 Family-Based Adjustments to Permanent Residence

Table 1 shows the denial rate for all benefit categories, but the ones above are the most common and important ones. President Trump has signed two executive orders that have been interpreted as a crackdown on legal immigrants, the “Buy American, Hire American” and “extreme vetting” orders. As I reported last year, USCIS dramatically increased the length and complexity of immigration forms last year. The agency has also made denying applications easier and has intimated that it would begin looking over the shoulders of adjudicators.

The administration is proposing sweeping new regulations that would only escalate these trends. The “public charge” rule would deny status to immigrants who the agency feels may use welfare in the future. Every immigration bill dealing with legal immigration that President Trump has endorsed would reduce the total numbers of legal immigrants. Clearly, the president’s goal is not just fewer illegal immigrants, but rather fewer immigrants of all kinds in the United States.

Table 1: Immigration Applications
Table 2: Immigration Applications Denials
Table 3: Immigration Applications Approvals
Table 4: Total Submitted Immigration Applications