New data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that adjudicates applications for immigrants, reveals that the agency is denying applications by immigrants at a higher rate. The denial rate for all applications—everything from travel and work authorizations to petitions for foreign workers—has risen every quarter except one under the Trump administration.
Overall, in the first quarter of fiscal year 2019, USCIS had a denial rate 80 percent above that for the first quarter of FY 17—the last full quarter of Obama’s term (October to December 2016). The denial rate increased from 7.4 percent in quarter 1 of FY 17 to 13.2 percent in quarter 1 of FY 19. Figure 1 shows the trend by quarter from FY 16 to FY 19.
The denial rate in the first quarter of 2019 was the highest for any quarter for the period that USCIS has published records, FY 13 to FY 19. The higher denial rate translates to more than 72,000 denials in quarter one of FY 19. These data exclude applications for citizenship and include all other USCIS applications except those for DACA and TPS—two programs for illegal immigrants that the president has tried to virtually eliminate—but the trends are similar regardless. They do not include visa applications that are made to the U.S. Department of State, though denial rates have increased there as well.
Figure 2 highlights the trend for affirmative asylum applications by quarter from FY 16 to FY 19. These applications do not include those made “defensively” in immigration court by illegal border crossers. The data show that from the first quarter of FY 17 to the first quarter of FY 19, the denial rate for affirmative asylum applications rose from 0.8 percent to 5.1 percent—a 515 percent increase.
Figure 3 shows the denial rate for T visa applications by quarter from FY 16 to FY 19. These applications grant legal status to victims of severe human trafficking. From the first quarter of FY 17 to the first quarter of FY 19, the denial rate for T visa applications rose from 11.3 percent to 43.3 percent—a 284 percent increase.
Figure 4 provides the trend for family‐based adjustment of status applications. These applications grant permanent residence (i.e. a green card) to immigrants. The denial rate has increased from 11.2 percent in the first quarter of FY 17 to 14.6 percent in the first quarter of FY 19—a 30 percent increase. As it shows, however, the trend started before FY 17. The increase since quarter 1 of FY 16 has been 60 percent.
Figure 5 provides the trend for the denial rate for employment authorization documents (EAD) by quarter from FY 16 to FY 19. Some immigrants whose status doesn’t automatically include it can apply for permission to work. These include applicants for asylum or certain spouses of H‑1B visa holders who have pending green card applications. The EAD denial rate has increased from 4.7 percent in the first quarter of FY 17 to 10.5 percent in the first quarter of FY 19—a 123 percent increase.
Figure 6 shows the trend for petitions for nonimmigrant workers (I‑129 forms). These are applications that employers make on behalf of foreign guest workers, such as H‑1B high‐skilled workers and H‑2A seasonal farm workers. The denial rate has increased from 17.6 percent in the first quarter of FY 17 to 28 percent in the first quarter of FY 19—a 59 percent increase.
Figure 7 illustrates the denial rate for advanced parole from FY 16 to FY 19. Advanced parole provides immigrants advanced permission to leave and reenter the United States without triggering certain consequences. Green card applicants often use advanced parole to travel internationally while their green card application is still pending. The denial rate increased from 8.4 percent in the first quarter of FY 17 to 14.7 percent in the first quarter of FY 19—a 75 percent increase.
The higher denial actually comes as the agency has received fewer applications. Total applications—again excluding citizenship, DACA, and TPS—have fallen from 1.7 million in quarter one of FY 17 to 1.3 million in quarter one of FY 19. The higher denials are caused by a variety of immigration changes, including the president’s “Buy American, Hire American” and “extreme vetting” executive orders. USCIS also increased the length and complexity of its immigration forms—doubling or tripling their length—and the government has also changed its standards for asylum. It has made issuing denials easier and is looking over the shoulders of adjudicators.
These denial rates come from only one of the agencies responsible for immigration, but this phenomenon spans the administration. U.S. Department of State and Department of Justice, which handle some types of applications, also have increased denials. The ultimate goal of this administration is simple: less immigration—illegal or legal.