Temporary Admissions of Nonimmigrants to the United States
The number of temporary admissions of nonimmigrants to the United States — tourists, international students, diplomats, or temporary workers — has reached 53.1 million admissions in 2011. The growth, due in part to more accurate border counts, is largely spurred by a surge in the number of business travelers and tourists — a trend that is expected to continue.
Recent presidential initiatives are likely to further increase the number of nonimmigrant admissions in the coming years, with the advent of regulation changes designed to speed the issuance of visas for the growing numbers of international travelers from China and Brazil.
This updated Spotlight examines the admission statistics of foreign nationals who came to the United States on temporary (nonimmigrant) visas in 2011 and who had to complete an I-94 arrival/departure form (more about the I-94 form on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.
The data is from the Annual Flow Report: Nonimmigrant Admissions to the United States: 2011 and from tables published online, all from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS).
Note: All yearly data are for the government's fiscal year (October 1 through September 30).
- Nonimmigrants are foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States temporarily for a specific purpose.
- Nonimmigrants may only engage in activities permitted under the visa issued to them.
- A nonimmigrant visa does not necessarily lead to lawful permanent residence.
- There is no limit on the total number of nonimmigrants admitted each year.
- Nonimmigrant admissions represent the number of arrivals, not the number of individuals, admitted to the United States.
- The number of nonimmigrant admissions does not equal the number of nonimmigrant visas issued by overseas consulates.
- Recent presidential initiatives will increase the nonimmigrant flows in the near future.
- Two important groups are exempt from completing I-94 arrival/departure forms.
- The total number of I-94 nonimmigrant admissions to the United States increased by 58 percent, from 33.7 million in 2000 to 53.1 million in 2011.
- I-94 nonimmigrant admissions decreased by 8 percent between 2008 and 2009.
- In 2011, approximately 87 percent of nonimmigrant admissions were temporary visitors (tourists and business travelers).
- Citizens from three countries — Mexico, the United Kingdom, and Japan — accounted for nearly 48 percent of all nonimmigrant admissions in 2011.
- Nationals of Canada, Mexico, and China made up over half of all foreign academic student admissions in 2011.
- Nonimmigrants from India composed almost one-third of all H-1B "specialty occupation" worker admissions in 2011.
- Nonimmigrants from Mexico accounted for more than three-quarters of all H-2B seasonal nonagricultural worker admissions in 2011.
- Four states — California, Florida, Texas and New York— were the intended destination for over half of all nonimmigrant admissions in 2011.
Special Note I
Nonimmigrants are foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States temporarily for a specific purpose.
Nonimmigrants are defined as citizens of other countries who have received a particular type of visa and enter the United States temporarily for a specific purpose, according to U.S. immigration law. Nonimmigrants also are referred to as temporary admissions. There are more than 70 classes of nonimmigrant admissions, including tourists, business visitors, foreign students, H-1B (temporary) workers, religious workers, intracompany transferees, diplomats, and representatives of international organizations.
Nonimmigrants may only engage in activities permitted under the visa issued to them.
Upon admission, nonimmigrants are restricted to the activity or reason for which their visa was issued. For example, a person admitted as a tourist is not allowed to work or study unless he leaves the United States and reenters on a work or student visa.
A nonimmigrant visa does not necessarily lead to lawful permanent residence.
By law, nonimmigrants are admitted temporarily for a specific purpose. However, if they meet certain eligibility requirements, they may apply to adjust their status to lawful permanent residence.
For example, should a woman who entered the United States on a student visa marry a U.S. citizen, her husband can petition DHS on her behalf to adjust her status to that of a lawful permanent resident. Family reunification would be the basis for her adjustment (see the Source article, Green Card Holders and Legal Immigration to the United States. If the couple meets all required criteria, she will receive a green card stating she is lawfully admitted for permanent residence.
(Note: This example is a simplified case provided mainly to illustrate the point.)
There is no limit on the total number of nonimmigrants admitted each year.
Despite no overall cap on how many nonimmigrants can be admitted to the United States per year, Congress sets a numerical limit for some categories of nonimmigrants. These categories currently include temporary skilled workers (65,000 H-1B "specialty occupation" visas for first-time applicants plus 20,000 visas for foreign graduates of U.S. advanced degree programs), certain "specialty occupation" professionals from Australia (10,500 E-3 visas), temporary nonagricultural workers (66,000 H-2B visas), victims of human trafficking (5,000 T-1 visas), and victims of criminal activity (10,000 U-1 visas).
Nonimmigrant admissions represent the number of arrivals, not the number of individuals, admitted to the United States.
Nonimmigrant admissions are recorded for each arrival, meaning one person may be counted for multiple admissions. A nonimmigrant may travel on the same (or different) visa back and forth between the United States and another country within the same year. Every time this person enters the United States, the entry is recorded and added to the total number of admissions for that fiscal year. Therefore, the count of admissions exceeds the number of individuals arriving.
The number of nonimmigrant admissions does not equal the number of nonimmigrant visas issued by overseas consulates.
The number of nonimmigrants arriving in the United States does not match the number of nonimmigrant visas issued by overseas consulates in the same fiscal year.
Three main reasons account for this difference. First, not all foreign nationals need a visa to enter the country. As of 2012, nationals of 37 countries that are part of the Visa Waiver Program (including most European Union countries, Australia, Brunei, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan) can travel to the United States without a visa if they come for a period of less than 90 days as tourists or business travelers. Second, most nonimmigrant visas are valid for several years. And third, some people may choose not to travel to the United States even if they obtain a visa, or they may choose to travel in the next (fiscal) year.
Recent presidential initiatives will increase the nonimmigrant flows in the near future.
The Obama administration in January 2012 announced plans to boost tourism and travel to the United States by speeding up visa processing for China and Brazil (two countries with a growing middle class), eliminating interviews for qualified visitors who wish to renew their visas to the United States, and expanding eligible country membership in the Visa Waiver Program. Nine countries have been added to the program since November 2008.
Two important groups are exempt from completing I-94 arrival/departure forms.
During 2011, there were 158.5 million nonimmigrant admissions to the United States, of which 105.4 million (67 percent) were exempt from completing the I-94 arrival/departure form at the port of entry. Two groups account for these nonimmigrant admissions: Canadians who travel to the United States for business or pleasure, and Mexicans who possess a Nonresident Alien Border Crossing Card (i.e., laser visa). DHS only reports characteristics of I-94 nonimmigrant admissions.
The total number of I-94 nonimmigrant admissions to the United States increased by 58 percent, from 33.7 million in 2000 to 53.1 million in 2011.
Temporary admissions of I-94 nonimmigrants to the United States nearly tripled from 17.6 million in 1990 to 53.1 million (not including the admission of exempt Mexicans and Canadians) in 2011 (see Figure 1).
Total temporary admissions of I-94 nonimmigrants increased from 46.5 million to 53.1 million from 2010 to 2011, which is an overall increase of 14 percent (see Side Bar for explanation).
Figure 1. Total Nonimmigrant Admissions, 1990-2011
Changes to Nonimmigrant Admissions in 2010
I-94 nonimmigrant admissions decreased by 8 percent between 2008 and 2009.
Admissions dropped from 39.4 million in 2008 to 36.2 million in 2009, marking the first decrease since 2003 (see Figure 1). Most of this occurred due to a decline in the two largest admission categories: tourist and business visitor admissions, which decreased by 6 percent and 22 percent, respectively. Admissions of temporary workers and their families also declined (by 13 percent), specifically the H-1B visa workers in specialty occupations (a 17 percent drop) and the H-2B/H-2R seasonal nonagricultural workers (a 48 percent decrease). In contrast, the admissions of academic students on F visas increased by 4 percent during that time.
A number of factors caused the 15 percent drop in nonimmigrant admissions between 2001 (32.8 million) and 2003 (27.8 million), one of which was increased scrutiny of visa applicants following the September 11 terrorist attacks. However, the upward trend resumed after 2003.
In 2011, approximately 87 percent of nonimmigrant admissions were temporary visitors (tourists and business travelers).
As in previous years, temporary visitors accounted for an overwhelming majority of all arrivals. In 2011, they represented 87 percent (46 million) of all admissions to the United States (see Figure 2). Of those, 40.6 million were tourist admissions and 5.7 million were business-traveler admissions.
Temporary workers and trainees, including H-1B "specialty occupation" workers, registered nurses, temporary agricultural workers, North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) professional workers, treaty traders, and intracompany transferees, among others, accounted for 3.4 million arrivals (more than 6 percent of total admissions); this figure includes spouses and children of all temporary workers and trainees.
Students who came to the United States to study at academic or vocational institutes, with their family members, made up about 4 percent (close to 1.9 million) of the total arrivals (not including exchange visitors).
Figure 2. Nonimmigrant Arrivals by Class of Admission, 2011
Citizens from three countries — Mexico, the United Kingdom, and Japan — accounted for nearly 48 percent of all nonimmigrant admissions in 2011.
Citizens from Mexico (17.1 million), the United Kingdom (4.5 million), and Japan (3.8 million) accounted for 48 percent (about 25.4 million) of all temporary admissions in 2011. Citizens from Germany, Canada, and France accounted for another 6 million admissions, or 11 percent in total. Brazilians (1.5 million), South Korean (1.4 million), Chinese (1.3 million), and Australians (1.2 million) made up another 11 percent of admissions. Nationals of these ten countries accounted for about 70 percent of the total nonimmigrant admissions. The overwhelming majority were tourist admissions.
Nationals of Canada, Mexico, and China made up over half of all foreign academic student admissions in 2011.
Citizens of Mexico (446,815), Canada (380,020), and China (224,977) composed 58 percent of the 1.8 million foreign academic student (F-1/F-3) admissions in 2011. (Note: Vocational M-visa students and students' family members are not included in these figures; commuter students on F-3 visas are included.)
Nationals of South Korea (122,978), India (81,211), Saudi Arabia (57,389), Japan (42,156), Taiwan (34,063), Brazil (25,553), and the United Kingdom (19,534) accounted for another 21 percent. Together, the top 10 countries of origin represented 79 percent (1.4 million) of all foreign academic student admissions.
Nonimmigrants from India composed almost one-third of all H-1B "specialty occupation" worker admissions in 2011.
Of all 494,595 temporary worker admissions under the H-1B/H-1B1 "specialty occupation" visa in 2011, 30 percent (147,290) were from India alone (family members are not included in these figures). Five countries — India, Canada (18 percent or 88,236), Mexico (8 percent or 37,575), China (5 percent or 23,705), and the United Kingdom (4 percent or 19,306) — accounted for 64 percent (316,112) of all H-1B admissions in 2011.
Nonimmigrants from Mexico accounted for more than three-quarters of all H-2B seasonal nonagricultural worker admissions in 2011.
In 2011, citizens of Mexico (62,020) accounted for 78 percent of the 79,862 H-2B seasonal nonagricultural worker admissions (includes returning H-2B workers and trainees). Individuals from Jamaica (4,861), Guatemala (2,668), Canada (1,553), the United Kingdom (1,229), South Africa (1,037), the Philippines (958), and El Salvador (464) accounted for another 16 percent.
Four states — California, Florida, Texas and New York— were the intended destination for over half of all nonimmigrant admissions in 2011.
In 2011, the most popular destinations for the 53.1 million nonimmigrant admissions (mostly tourists and business visitors) were the states of California (19 percent of all admissions), Florida (13 percent), Texas (12 percent), and New York (12 percent).
Of the approximately 1.8 million foreign academic student (F-1/F-3) admissions in 2011, about half intended to study in four states: Texas (16 percent of admissions or 288,502), New York (12 percent or 225,722), California (12 percent or 221,798), and Michigan (10 percent or 181,831). (Note: Vocational students and students' family members are not included in these figures; commuter students on F-3 visas are included.)
Of all 494,595 H-1B temporary worker admissions (family members are not included in this figure) in 2011, 52 percent intended to work in five states: 15 percent (74,508 admissions) to California; 14 percent (70,011) to New York; 9 percent (44,427) to Texas; 9 percent (42,508) to Michigan; and 5 percent (26,368) to New Jersey.
Of all 79,862 H-2B/H-2R seasonal nonagricultural worker admissions in 2011, 31 percent (24,663) intended to go to Texas; 4 percent (3,412) to Florida; 4 percent (3,333) to Louisiana; 4 percent (3,190) to Colorado; and 3 percent (2,700) to Maryland.
Information on nonimmigrants
- Data on nonimmigrant admissions are from the DHS Office of Immigration Statistics.
- Definitions of terms from the DHS Office of Immigration Statistics.
- Information about types of temporary visitors in the United States from the U.S. Department of State.
- Batalova, Jeanne. 2006. The Growing Connection Between Temporary and Permanent Immigration Systems. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute.
Information on Visa Waiver Program
- U.S. Department of State Visa Waiver Program
- Testimony of Susan Ginsburg, Director of MPI's Mobility and Security Program, "Weaknesses in the Visa Waiver Program: Are the Needed Safeguards in Place to Protect America?" Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security, February 28, 2008. Available online.