September 16, 2022

Memo: Muslim Ban Hangover in the First Half of 2022

In the first half of 2022, the Biden administration accelerated its processing of Iranian visas, though still fell far short of processing rates that preceded Donald Trump’s Muslim ban and the COVID-19 pandemic. While the data demonstrates an improvement from 2021 in several categories, including visitor visas, visa processing for Iranians has yet to come close to the pre-Muslim ban era. This is an area that the Biden administration must continue to improve on throughout the rest of 2022 and in the years to come, as many families are still struggling to navigate the immigration system in order to reunite with their loved ones.

According to data provided by the State Department, here is snapshot of visa processing for Iranian nationals between January and June 2022: 

Visitor visas 

  • The Biden administration averaged 371 Iranian visitor visas (B1/B2) per month with a total of 2,226 through June 2022. This represents more than a 13-fold increase from the miserable monthly average of 28 visitor visas-per month in 2021. Yet, while this represents a trend in the right direction, it is only 19% of the processing rate for Iranian visitor visas that occurred before the Muslim ban in 2016 when 23,048 were processed in a single year. Given that Iranians rely on visitor visas to reunite with family or join each other for big moments, like weddings, it is vital for the administration to expedite its processing of this category.

Diversity visas

  • The Biden administration processed an average of 88 Diversity Visas per month for Iranians, for a total of 529, in the first half of 2022 – with the bulk being processed in March and June. This reflects a five-fold increase from Biden’s first year, when the administration only managed to process 16 visas per month. Despite this increase, the 2022 average is still a mere 39% of the average from 2016. Processing of Diversity Visas is absolutely critical as it is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for individuals selected to secure their green card and pursue the American dream. If the visas are not processed, as has repeatedly occurred in recent years, the U.S. causes tremendous pain by offering false hope then breaking its commitments. 

Immediate Relative visas

  • The Biden administration processed an average of 259 Immediate Relative visas for Iranian nationals per month in the first half of 2022. These visas are granted to spouses and unmarried children of U.S. citizens. Uniquely, in this category the administration has surpassed the 2021 monthly average of 115 as well as the Pre-Muslim Ban average of 190 in 2016.

Family Preference visas

  • The Biden administration processed an average of 142 Family Preference visas for Iranians per month in the first half of the year, compared to an average of 86 in 2021. While this category has moved in the right direction, it hasn’t caught up to the 2016 average of 201 Family Preference visas processed for Iranians each month. 

Student visas

  • The administration has continued to prioritize Iranian student visas (F1/F2), which averaged 234 per month in the first half of 2022. While an increase from 2021, the average has yet to reach the pre-Muslim ban monthly average of 262. Yet, it may be possible as May and June nearly doubled the visas processed in the first four months of the year, and July and August are known for being high processing months as students secure visas in advance of the fall semester. Regrettably, there are still many hurdles to Iranian students securing their visas and studying in the United States, but high processing rates are helping to restore a key bridge between the American and Iranian people.
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