The United States has always been a nation of immigrants. While the annual numbers have fluctuated dramatically, a peak of 1.8 million people were admitted as lawful permanent residents in 1991, and in most years of the last decade, the number has averaged around 1 million. The latest estimate is that nearly 45 million people in the United States are foreign born, nearly 15% of the population.

Of the roughly 245 million people worldwide who live somewhere other than their country of birth, a surprising 19% live in the United States. The composition of the foreign born has changed substantially over the decades. In 1960, 84% were of European or Canadian origin but this declined to just 13% in 2016, with over 51% now arriving from Mexico and Central America.

We were wondering what the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has had on immigration this year. Since most statistics are published annually, the full picture won’t emerge until sometime next year. In the interim, however, we can offer the following indicators –

The latest report from CIS (Citizenship and Immigration Services) covers the first six months of the year –

  • I-129 petitions for non-immigrant workers (H-1B) are relatively unchanged (averaging around 25000 per month), and the normal seasonal bias towards late spring was seen this year. Interestingly, approval rates, which are typically around 85% have been much higher during the pandemic, with 97.3% approved in June.
  • I-140 petitions for alien workers (normally a precursor to the I-94, or green card application) are down at least 15-20% over the first half of the year.
  • I-400 applications for naturalization were 240,000 for the first half of the year, and 700,000 applications are pending. In most recent years, about 750,000 applications are processed – and we can expect that the annual total will be substantially lower in 2020 than 2019.
  • I-94 arrivals this year to the end of August were down 76% from 2019, and in August alone down 96.2% (International Trade Administration).
  • Apprehensions by the CBP are down about 25% this year, and were down by nearly 80% in April and May, suggesting that undocumented immigration is likely substantially lower in 2020 than in prior years.

On balance, immigration is likely to be down substantially for the year, primarily as a result of the severe lockdowns in the second quarter. Over the past ten years (April 2010 to July 2019), natural increase (births less deaths) accounted for 60% of total population change, with net migration averaging nearly 875,000 per year. It can be expected that the total population growth for 2020 will be lower, mainly because of lower immigration, both legal and undocumented.