American businesses rely on foreign-born workers in many industries and the country’s immigration system has channels specifically dedicated to employment-based immigration. The Trump administration, however, has deliberately restricted and slowed the pace of these legal immigration channels. This is reflected in an abrupt jump in immigration application denial rates, increased scrutiny of nonimmigrant and immigrant petitions, and a significant growth in requests for evidence.

In order to understand these shifts and the historical background of employment-based admissions more generally, the American Immigration Council filed a lawsuit on April 9 to compel U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to release ten years’ worth of granular data about foreign-born workers, employers, and industries.

Different types of petitions are filed to allow foreign-born workers into the United States temporarily or on a permanent basis.

Individual-level data is essential to learning more about the factors that influence decisions on these petitions. While USCIS periodically releases data in summary form, that format is not sufficient to fully understand the variety of factors that might contribute to a denial or an approval.

With the data we requested, we can help determine what factors increase or decrease the chances of approval, denial, or requests for evidence. These include the type and characteristics of the employer, establishments where the work would be performed, attributes of foreign-born workers, or type of job.

Some questions that this data will help us address:

  • Are employers based in certain areas of the country more likely to have their petitions approved?
  • Are petitions filed on behalf of individuals from certain countries more likely to be denied?
  • Are particular industries more likely to be negatively affected by USCIS decisions than others?

Overall approval or denial rates is just the tip of the iceberg. They are good indicators of overall trends and to a large degree, an expression of the political direction of the immigration admissions system. But that is only one piece of the story. There are other, less obvious factors that may shape those outcomes.

For example, a few years ago, a study shed light on the nationality bias in the Department of Labors’ (DOL’s) labor certification review process–a first step for foreign born individuals seeking permanent residence through their employment. Specifically, the data analyzed revealed that chances of approval were lower for immigrants from Latin America than for immigrants from Canada or Asia.

It is unclear whether these or other implicit biases exist in the USCIS petition review process. But this speaks to the importance of these types of analysis. In order to ensure fairness in immigration agency decision-making, we first need to understand how our current system actually functions. This includes assessing whether the adjudication process is fair and consistent. That’s why access to the data we’re requesting is so critical.