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Why U.S. Visa Numbers Are Down


Stopping illegal immigration is President Trump's signature issue. As for legal immigration, President Trump had this to say in his State of the Union address in February.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, according to recent data from the State Department, U.S. visas issued - that's temporary visas and immigrant visas - are significantly down. Stuart Anderson, executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy, a free market think tank, has looked at the numbers and joins me now to talk about them. Welcome to the program.

STUART ANDERSON: Well, thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So walk us through the data. What did you find? And we should say we're talking fiscal year, 2017 to 2018.

ANDERSON: In 2018, temporary visas were down 7 percent, and immigrant visas for people coming for permanent residence - those were down 5 percent.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. And within those areas, we saw some really dramatic declines. I'm just going to tick through what you found - a decrease of 7 percent of visas issued to immediate relatives, a decrease of 29 percent for fiance visas. Those are pretty interesting numbers.

ANDERSON: Well, I think the interesting thing about the fiance visas and the immediate relatives - it means that it's actually becoming much harder for an American citizen to bring a spouse to the United States. And that, I think, is directly tied to a State Department change in their manual on what's called public charge grounds. And what that has meant is that Americans are being separated from someone who they really want to spend the rest of their life with.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And when you say public charge, this is the rule that someone could be a burden on the country and use federal programs for the poor - food stamps, et cetera. And they're being denied on those grounds because they might not have the financial wherewithal to join their spouse.

ANDERSON: Yes. And obviously, there's been a big change in how that's been interpreted because Congress has not changed the law. And, in fact, it hasn't changed in a very long time. And this is separate from what the Department of Homeland Security is trying to do in a proposed regulation that has not gone into effect yet that many believe would much more dramatically reduce legal immigration to the United States.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Student visas are also down by 8 percent. And one of the things that you found is that student visas issued for Indian students are down 31 percent over the last two years. What's going on?

ANDERSON: What has happened is that Indian students have decided that America may not be the best place to make their career. They've seen an increase in the number of denials for H-1B visas to work after graduation. And also, there is very long wait times for employment-based green cards for Indians.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's been a lot of focus on the illegal immigration portion of this, but the legal part of this has gotten less attention while it seems like the system is being fundamentally changed.

ANDERSON: I think it's easier to notice when Congress changes the law than these incremental changes inside government bureaucracies. And what we've seen is the travel ban, a measure on what's called extreme vetting of visas, a Buy American and Hire American executive order and the public charge change by the State Department. And when you combine all those together, what we've seen is decreases in legal immigration, and even in people trying to come here as tourists or as students.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I'm going to ask you to respond to that clip from President Trump. He's saying, we're open for business; we want as many immigrants to come in legally as possible. But these numbers seem to show that that isn't necessarily the case.

ANDERSON: I think the president has tried to look more moderate in the face of his other rhetoric about things like the caravan and other border policies. But I think the best advice is to ignore what is being said and to watch what is being done.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Stuart Anderson, executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy, thank you so much.

ANDERSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.