Since President Donald Trump took office, he and his cabinet have acted aggressively on Trump’s signature campaign promise, cutting back on immigration in the name of national security. The result is that illegal immigrants have been rounded up in greater numbers, legal immigrants from Muslim and African countries have been reduced while more immigrant visas have been issued to European countries.
NEWSWEEK is reporting thatTrump’s immigration policies have created a steep decline in visas to Muslim and African countries, and a significant rise in visas to European countries. The shift in legal immigration is a reversal of the trend under President Barack Obama. During Obama’s time in office, immigrant visas increased by 33 percent, surging to 617,752 in fiscal 2016, the highest level in decades.
New State Department data shows the number of legal immigration visas continues to drop under President Donald Trump. Just halfway through Trump’s first term, the United States is likely to see a 12 percent decrease in the amount of immigrants getting permanent visas, according to a Washington Post analysis.
But the data also shows that not all countries are treated the same, as visas are being granted to European countries at a higher rate than non-European nations. The most affected areas include the Muslim-majority countries that Trump has listed on his travel ban, which was just recently upheld by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling.
The number of visas granted to immigrants from Yemen, Syria, Iran, Libya and Somalia—all countries listed in Trump’s travel ban—is expected to drop by 81 percent by the end of the president’s second fiscal year this October. Legal immigration from all Muslim-majority countries is expected to drop by about 30 percent from 2016 to 2018, according to State Department data.
South American and African countries are facing a similar decrease in granted visas, even as El Salvador sees more.
On the other hand, the amount of legal immigrants coming to the U.S. from European countries has grown under President Trump, though the number of Europeans receiving visas is still far less than that from Latin America, Asia and Africa.
Federal data shows that applications for the H-1B visas have fallen for the first time in five years, according to a March report by immigration lawyers. The report cited a barrage of new and unprecedented application requirements, as well as reports of administration plans to further limit the visas.
Trump has long pressed Congress to pass immigration legislation that puts national security and American workers first. Earlier this year he also called on lawmakers to disband the country’s diversity lottery program, which makes 50,000 visas available each year for individuals from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S.
The president is also cracking down on the number of temporary visas for skilled workers and international students.
Washington Post Legal immigration is believed to outpace illegal immigration by about 3 to 1, according to statistics collected by the Pew Research Center, and scaling back legal arrivals has been a top priority of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, White House adviser Stephen Miller and some other administration officials.
Last year, the administration backed a failed Senate bill that analysts said would have cut legal immigration by half by eliminating certain visa types. Congress last month voted down another administration-backed measure to curb legal immigration and did the same to a third immigration bill on Wednesday.
But the Trump administration has managed to effect significant changes in immigration without Congress, in part by relying on administrative guidance handed down to consular officials to change the way immigrant visas are considered and processed, administration officials and outside experts said. The result is a shift in the legal immigration process in line with the vision of Miller , the adviser who officials say sits at the helm of immigration policy decisions.
“Miller sees consular officers as the tip of the spear in his effort to control who is getting into the country,” said one high-ranking national security official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official is not authorized to speak to the media. “He sees it as a generational thing, like he has to retrain them.”
Under the previous administration, case officers at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processed immigrant visa applications with “a culture of getting to ‘yes,’ ” said another high-ranking administration official familiar with immigration policy deliberations.
Now those officers, along with consular officers at the State Department, feel empowered to exercise their own discretion, take more time scrutinizing each applicant and more strictly enforce existing laws on inadmissibility, the official said. The longer vetting process results in fewer approved applications per month.
“If you’re empowering people to spend more time vetting an application, and you’re not having a culture of getting to ‘yes’ but having a culture of make the right decision, it’s axiomatic that you will not be able to process applications for immigration benefits at the same speed,” the official said.
Amendments to the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual in January expanded the burden of proof for visa applicants to show that they will not become “a public charge,” which is grounds for denial. Immigration analysts who have reviewed leaked policy drafts expect the administration to publish new rules soon to expand further the terms of inadmissibility.
“It’s intended to have an effect on the numbers,” said Doris Meissner, a former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and now a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute. “It’s intended to put more rigor into the visa issuance process. But almost by definition, that’s going to likely result in more denials.”
The largest decline in approvals is occurring in the family-based visas that allow U.S. citizens and legal residents to sponsor the immigration of relatives to the United States — what Trump has labeled “chain migration.” Special immigrant visas that are predominantly reserved for the Iraqis and Afghans who served the U.S. government in war zones also have been reduced significantly.
There have been similar trends in other immigrant categories. Refugee arrivals are on track to fall by 75 percent from 2016 levels, according to federal data.
With just three months before the end of the fiscal year, the United States is only a third of the way to its refugee cap for Africa and Latin America and less than half of the way to its cap for Asia. But it has surpassed the smaller cap set for European refugees, said analysts at the Niskanen Center.
Trump has consistently emphasized his intention to transform the U.S. immigration system into one based on “merit” rather than family ties, preferring those with desired skills and financial resources who also speak English.