I recently stumbled across this interesting blog post by immigration lawyer Angelo Paparelli, where he talks about US visa refusals. The post is from 2009, responding to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s public statement that she was committed to streamlining the US visa process. Angelo mentions a staggering figure from the State Department’s fiscal year 2008 annual report:
In FY 2008, the State Department’s consular officers denied 1,481,471 nonimmigrant visa (NIV) applications under Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) § 214(b) (failure to establish entitlement to the requested NIV classification). While 19,837 (1.3%) of these refusals were overcome, almost 99% of the refusals prevented possibly deserving applicants from coming to the United States. [Note: These do not include the 64,516 refusals for specific grounds such as criminal conduct, public charge, material support of terrorism, etc.]
I checked the 2012 fiscal year figures and they are similar in every meaningful respect. To calculate the approval rate we need to bring in data on visas issued: with 8.9 million non-immigrant visas issued and 1.4 million non-immigrant visa applications rejected (virtually all because of 214(b)), we get an overall rejection rate of about 14%. I don’t know if that is too high or too low. But look at the data for yourself: these aren’t people with communicable diseases or criminal records. Over 1 million people have been refused student or visitor visas for the amorphous reason of “Failure to establish entitlement to nonimmigrant status.”
Presumably the intent is to deter fraud: there is a valid concern that non-immigrant visas can be used to get into the country and via overstaying, unlawfully “convert” the visa-holder to a de facto immigrant. But the main reason that is a problem is because the immigrant visa process itself deters bona fide immigrants! If you don’t believe this, one of Angelo’s colleagues recently crunched the numbers on current expected waits for some classes of lawful immigrants:
The wait for someone getting a visa today was as long as 24 years. The wait for someone starting today is much longer. An extreme example is Mexico F2B [Mexico-born “Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 years of age or older) of Permanent Residents”].
The last time I took the difference between the cut-off date and the present date, then factored in the rate of “advance,” the anticipated delay for someone applying today under that category was 395 years. Mexico F-1 [Mexico-born “Unmarried Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens”] was “only” about 80-85 years.
In the US, gun rights activists love to say that if you make guns outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. By outlawing immigration, the US has ensured only outlaws will immigrate. Abortion rights activists love to warn that if abortions are banned, the only thing that will change is that more women will get hurt or die from unlicensed backdoor abortion providers: if immigration is banned, unsurprisingly millions will risk life and limb to immigrate.
If wait times longer than the human lifespan are not a de facto ban, I don’t know what is. You might as well tell someone he can own a gun when he lives to be as old as Methuselah (a man from the Old Testament who lived for over 8 centuries), or tell her she can have an abortion when she wins the Powerball (an American lottery). You may scoff. But that is exactly what the US government tells the person looking to join their family or earn a honest living. “Sure, we’re a nation of immigrants! If you’re a lottery-winning Methuselah, come on in.” And it is worse for those 1 million+ people denied the chance to visit or study in the US: because the US government has essentially outlawed immigrants, it has similarly had no choice but to do the same for visitors too. Through no fault of their own, millions of foreigners have been punished for the US government’s failure to fix its own laws.