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Friday, April 8, 2011

Asylum and “Credible Fear” Issues in U.S. Immigration Policy


Ruth Ellen Wasem
Specialist in Immigration Policy

Foreign nationals seeking asylum must demonstrate a well-founded fear that if returned home, they will be persecuted based upon one of five characteristics: race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Foreign nationals arriving or present in the United States may apply for asylum affirmatively with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in the Department of Homeland Security after arrival into the country, or they may seek asylum defensively before a Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) immigration judge during removal proceedings.

Asylum claims ebbed and flowed in the 1980s and peaked in FY1996. Since FY997, affirmative asylum cases decreased by 79% and defensive asylum claims dropped by 53% by FY2009. Asylum seekers from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) dominated both the affirmative and defensive asylum caseload in FY2009. Five of the top 10 source countries of asylum seekers were Western Hemisphere nations in FY2009: Haiti, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Colombia. Ethiopia was the only African nation that was a top source country for asylum seekers in FY2009. Despite the general decrease in asylum cases since the enactment of the Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA ) in 1996, data analysis of six selected countries (the PRC, Colombia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Haiti, and Mexico) suggests that conditions in the source countries are likely the driving force behind asylum seekers.

Roughly 30% of all asylum cases that worked through USCIS and EOIR in recent years have been approved. Affirmative asylum cases approved by USCIS more than doubled from 13,532 in FY1996 to 31,202 in FY2002, and then fell to the lowest point over the 14-year period—9,614— in FY2009. The number of defensive asylum cases that EOIR judges have approved has risen by 99% from FY1996 through FY2009. The PRC led in the number of asylum cases approved by USCIS and EOIR over the decade of FY2000-FY2009.

Despite national data trends that appeared to be consistent, approval rates for asylum seekers differ strikingly across regions and jurisdictions. For example, a study of 290 asylum officers who decided at least 100 cases from the PRC from FY1999 through FY2005 found that the approval rate of PRC claimants spanned from zero to over 90% during this period. In a separate study, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) analyzed asylum decisions from 19 immigration courts that handled almost 90% of the cases from October 1994 through April 2007 and found that “significant variation existed.”

Those advocating revisions of asylum policy have divergent perspectives. Some assert that asylum has become an alternative pathway for immigration rather than humanitarian protection. Others argue that—given the religious, ethnic, and political violence in various countries around the world—it has become more difficult to differentiate the persecuted from the persecutors. Some express concern that U.S. sympathies for the asylum seekers caught up in the democratic political uprisings in Libya and other parts of the Middle East, northern Africa, and south Asia could inadvertently facilitate the entry of terrorists. Others maintain that current law does not offer adequate protections for people fleeing human rights violations or gender-based abuses that occur around the world. Some cite the disparities in asylum approvals rates and urge broad-based administrative reforms. At the crux of the issue is the extent to which an asylum policy forged during the Cold War is adapting to the competing priorities and turbulence of the 21
st century.


Date of Report: April 6, 2011
Number of Pages: 39
Order Number: R41753
Price: $29.95

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery Issues

Ruth Ellen Wasem
Specialist in Immigration Policy

The purpose of the diversity immigrant visa lottery is, as the name suggests, to encourage legal immigration from countries other than the major sending countries of current immigrants to the United States. Current law weights the allocation of immigrant visas heavily toward aliens with close family in the United States and, to a lesser extent, toward aliens who meet particular employment needs. The diversity immigrant category was added to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) by the Immigration Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-649) to stimulate “new seed” immigration (i.e., to foster new, more varied migration from other parts of the world).

To be eligible for a diversity visa, the INA requires that the foreign national must have a high school education or the equivalent, or two years experience in an occupation that requires at least two years of training or experience. The foreign national or the foreign national’s spouse must be a native of one of the countries listed as a foreign state qualified for the diversity visa lottery. Diversity lottery winners, like all other aliens wishing to come to the United States, must undergo reviews performed by Department of State consular officers abroad and Department of Homeland Security immigration officers upon entry to the United States. These reviews are intended to ensure that the aliens are not ineligible for visas or admission under the grounds for inadmissibility spelled out in the INA.

The diversity lottery currently makes 50,000 visas available annually to natives of countries from which immigrant admissions were lower than a total of 50,000 over the preceding five years. The formula for allocating visas is based upon the statutory specifications; visas are divided among six global geographic regions according to the relative populations of the regions, with their allocation weighted in favor of countries in regions that were under-represented among immigrant admissions to the United States during the past five years. The INA limits each country to 7%, or 3,850, of the total and provides that Northern Ireland be treated as a separate foreign state.

The regional distribution of the source countries for diversity immigrants has shifted over time in the four years selected for comparison (FY1994, FY1999, FY2004, and FY2009). Foreign nationals from Europe garnered the overwhelming share of the diversity visas in FY1994 and maintained a plurality share in FY1999. By FY2004, foreign nationals from Africa received a share comparable to those from Europe. In FY2009, foreign nationals from Africa gained the plurality share.

Some argue that the diversity lottery should be eliminated and its visas used for backlog reduction in other visa categories. Supporters of the diversity visa, however, argue that the diversity visa provides “new seed” immigrants for an immigration system weighted disproportionately to family-based immigrants from a handful of countries. Critics of the diversity lottery warn that it is vulnerable to fraud and misuse and is potentially an avenue for terrorists, citing the difficulties of performing background checks in many of the countries eligible for the diversity lottery. Supporters respond that background checks for criminal and national security matters are performed on all prospective immigrants seeking to come to the United States, including those winning diversity visas.



Date of Report: April 1, 2011
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: R41747
Price: $29.95

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