As the Trump administration campaigns against “chain migration”—where US citizens or Green Card holders petition for extended family members to immigrate to the US—approvals of family-based visas have dropped dramatically in the 2017 fiscal year despite no changes to law. Within the first nine months of 2017, the number of I-130 approvals dropped to 406,000, compared to the 530,000 approvals from the same time period in 2016, despite a similar amount of applications, a Reuters review of US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) figures show. Additionally, the number of I-130 petitions approved for those who are not immediate family members dropped approximately seventy percent, from 108,000 within the first nine months of 2016 to only 32,500 approvals during the same time period in 2017. The entire 2017 fiscal year had the lowest approval numbers for extended family visas since 2000. Approvals of fiancé/fiancée visas also dropped by thirty-five percent over the first nine months of 2017.
President Trump has stated that he believes “chain migration" allows a single immigrant “to bring in dozens of increasingly distant relations" with "no real selection criteria,” citing the attempted bombing of New York City’s Port Authority by a Bangladeshi immigrant last month as an example of the danger that such migration imposes on the US. L. Francis Cissna, the new director of USCIS, is also against chain migration: “That lack of selectivity; it takes us away from where we want to go as a country,” Cissna told Reuters. Chain migration has been targeted by groups that favor restricting legal immigration to the US. NumbersUSA launched a nationwide campaign against chain migration earlier this month which included a chart detailing what they consider to be uncontrollable migration.
The term “chain migration” generally refers to the process in which a US citizen or legal permanent resident (a Green Card holder) can petition for relatives to immigrate to the US. Despite what President Trump has claimed, these relatives are subject to the standard vetting process, which includes a criminal and terrorist background check and an evaluation of whether they are able to support themselves financially without depending on government aid. Madeline Hsu, an immigration scholar at the University of Texas, believes that these anti-family migration campaigns are vehicles for “masked racial discourse" and fear that “the kinds of people coming in or gaining citizenship are racially not the right kinds of people.”
Despite the decrease in approval numbers, Cissna stated that USCIS has not changed the manner in which family-based visas are issued and that there are no plans to restrict visas for immediate family members, claiming that approval numbers are still high. Many immigration advocates are concerned by the anti-immigrant rhetoric underlying the arguments against chain migration. “Before, there was a bipartisan view that immigration was good for society and the economy and integral to the history of the United States,” Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute, told the Washington Post. “But this administration has radically changed the debate.”