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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Frequently asked questions directed to the Office of Immigration Statistics can be found here. Some answers regarding general topics in immigration, immigration data, refugees & asylees, nonimmigrants, enforcement, etc. are found below. For any questions or concerns please contact


  • How do I apply for legal permanent residency? How do I apply for citizenship?
    • For citizenship/green card information please visit the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website at
  • Where do I sign up for the SENTRI, NEXUS, or Global Entry programs, or other Trusted Traveler Programs?
  • I am looking for historical data from decades ago, but the OIS website only has data going back to 1996.  Is the OIS Yearbook and other immigration data available for years prior to 1996?
    • The U.S. government has collected information on immigrants since 1820 and has published data in annual publications since the 1860s under the following titles (with years and departments responsible for publication):
      • The Foreign Commerce and Navigation of the United States (1869-1891, Department of Treasury)
      • Annual Report of the Commissioner of Immigration (1892-1932, Departments of Treasury, Commerce, and Labor)
      • Annual Report of the Commissioner of Naturalization (1913-1932, Departments of Commerce and Labor)
      • Annual Report of the Secretary of Labor (1933-1940, Department of Labor)
      • Annual Report of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (1941-1977, Department of Justice)
      • Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (1978-2001, Department of Justice)
      • Yearbook of Immigration Statistics (2002-present, Department of Homeland Security)
    • Several organizations have scanned and posted these historical publications as PDF documents on their website, including:
    • Public and university libraries may also have paper copies of these publications on file.

Office of Immigration Statistics Data

  • What types of data on immigration is available through the OIS website?  What types of demographic, geographic, and socioeconomic information does OIS have?
    • OIS publishes data on selected foreign-born or immigrant population groups in the United States, including lawful permanent residents (LPRs), refugees, persons approved for asylum status, naturalizations, nonimmigrants, and persons who were apprehended or repatriated.  Generally, published data show information on age, sex, country of origin, state or metropolitan area of residence, port of entry, class of admission, and occupation, with more information available for some population groups than others.
  • I found data on immigrants or the foreign-born population from another U.S. government site.  How is OIS immigration data different from data from other sources, such as Census Bureau and Department of State?
    • OIS data are drawn from DHS administrative records and therefore include information on foreign-born population groups that are not available from other data sources.  For example, the Census Bureau’s decennial census and American Community Survey (ACS) are based on surveys of the U.S. and foreign-born populations. The Census Bureau asks questions about citizenship and nativity, but typically does not ask detailed questions about immigration status (LPRs, nonimmigrants, etc.) that is covered in OIS reports. OIS data differs from Department of State’s (DOS) visa data because DOS describes visa issuances, and OIS describes alien admissions. Not everyone who receives a visa is admitted to the United States, and some visa holders are admitted (and counted in OIS data) multiple times.
  • I found data from USCIS, CBP, or ICE.  Why does OIS not have the same information on its website?  Can OIS provide the same data?
    • DHS data reported by OIS is drawn from data collected by USCIS, CBP, and ICE.  OIS publishes information that is legislatively mandated and data that are interest to the public.  Some data published by USCIS, CBP, and ICE pertain to each agency’s operation, and members of these agencies are better positioned to report, publish, and answer questions about these data.
  • Why are certain countries not listed in the data tables? Why do the data tables say “D” in certain cells? Why does OIS suppress data cells with low counts?  Can I get these data?
    • If a country is not listed in a table that includes all countries it is because that country had less than 10 cases each year for all years listed. These countries’ numbers are included in the “other” count at the bottom of the table. If a “D” appears in a table the number has been removed to prevent the potential for identification of individuals given the small count of the category listed and other categories in the table. OIS is committed to protecting the privacy of individuals.  Suppression of data cells with low counts in OIS tables prevents identification of an individual and/or characteristics of an individual.
  • Why do the data in tables change slightly from year to year?
    • DHS offices continue to update their annual data as more complete data are received. Often, this results in small changes in our data for the previous year. Only on rare occasions will data beyond the previous year be impacted.
  • Does the Office of Immigration Statistics have data other than what are available online?
    • The Office of Immigration Statistics receives specific administrative data from DHS agencies. In general, OIS does not receive information that is not collected by DHS operational components (e.g., data on DHS budgets or on migrants’ religion, group affiliation, etc.). In addition to its Yearbook and Flow Reports, OIS publishes certain supplemental data tables that are of interest to the public in the OIS Reading Room. Users may suggest supplemental data topics here.
  • Can I get more specific information about a group of immigrants/nonimmigrants?
    • The Office of Immigration Statistics only provide macro data. While in some cases more specific information can be requested, any information that could lead to identifying individuals cannot be provided.

Refugees & Asylees

  • What is the difference between a refugee and an asylee?
    • Both refugees and asylees are persons who have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. However, the location of the applicant determines whether the person applies for asylum or refugee status. Refugee status applies to persons outside of the United States (and their eligible relatives), while asylum status applies to persons already in the United States (and their eligible relatives).
  • What is the difference between affirmative and defensive asylum?
    • An alien may file an affirmative asylum applications directly with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) at the alien’s own initiative. An alien may file an affirmative application regardless of their immigration status as long as they have not been placed in removal proceedings. Affirmative application are adjudicated by USCIS asylum officers in a non-adversarial setting. In general, an unauthorized alien whose affirmative asylum application is rejected is placed in removal proceedings before an immigration judge and permitted to file a defensive asylum claim.
    • An alien may file a defensive asylum claim if the alien has been placed in removal proceedings before the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) pursuant to Section 240 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. A defensive asylum claim is a request for relief from removal from the United States. Defensive asylum claims are adjudicated by an immigration judge in an adversarial setting; an ICE attorneys generally argues in favor of the alien’s removal (i.e., argues against the alien being granted asylum). 
  • Why are the refugee numbers different from those on the State department’s website?
    • Refugee data reported by the Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS) may differ slightly from numbers reported by the Department of State (DOS) because DOS counts include Amerasians (children born in Cambodia, Korea, Laos, Thailand, or Vietnam after December 31, 1950, and before October 22, 1982, and who have been fathered by a U.S. citizen) as refugees, whereas OIS counts Amerasians as lawful permanent residents.
  • When can refugees and asylees apply for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status (green cards)?
    • One year after being admitted to the United States, refugees are required by statute to apply for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status (also known as a “green card”). Asylees are eligible (but not required) to apply for LPR status one year after being granted asylum. Qualifying family members of refugees and asylees may apply for green cards at the same time as the principal applicant.
  • When can refugees and/or asylees apply for citizenship/naturalization?
    • Refugees granted LPR status may apply for naturalization five years after their admission date as a refugee. Asylees may apply for naturalization five years after their final grant of asylum, provided they applied for and were granted LPR status.


  • What is a nonimmigrant? Does OIS report all United States nonimmigrants each year?
    • Nonimmigrants are foreign nationals granted temporary admission to the United States. The major purposes for which nonimmigrant admission is authorized include temporary visits for business or pleasure, academic or vocational study, temporary employment, and to act as a representative of a foreign government or international organization, among others. OIS flow reports and Yearbooks focus primarily on the subset of nonimmigrants who are required to fill out paper or electronic I-94 arrival records. Nonimmigrants who enter the country more than once in a day are counted only as one admission.
  • Where do I find VISA issuance data for nonimmigrants?
    • Visa issuance data can be found on the Report of the Visa Office website. This is an annual report providing statistical information on immigrant and non-immigrant visa issuances by consular offices, as well as information on the use of visa numbers in numerically limited categories.
  • How often are nonimmigrant numbers reported by OIS?
    • OIS reports nonimmigrant numbers annually within the second or third quarter of each fiscal year.
  • What is Form I-94?

Immigration Enforcement

  • How many unauthorized immigrants are there in the U.S.?
  • What is a Deportable Alien (INA 237)?
    • A deportable alien is as an alien within and admitted to the United States who is subject to any grounds of deportability specified in Section 237 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. § 1227.  These grounds apply to any alien illegally in the United States, regardless of whether the alien entered the country by fraud or misrepresentation or entered legally but subsequently violated the terms of his or her visa classification or status.
  • What is an Inadmissible Alien?
    • An inadmissible alien is an alien seeking admission to the United States, or who is present without being inspected and admitted or paroled, who is subject to one or more grounds of inadmissibility described in section 212 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. § 1182.
  • What are Removals?
    • A removal is the compulsory and confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States based on an order of removal.  An alien who is removed, as opposed to being returned or leaving the country under an order of voluntary departure, is subject to administrative penalties and may face criminal charges upon subsequent re-entry.
  • What are Returns?
    • A return is the confirmed movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the United States not based on an order of removal.  An alien subject to return waives his or her right to a formal proceeding and chooses to depart the United States and return to his or her home country in lieu of removal proceedings. 
  • What is the difference between a removal and a return?
    • Removals and returns are both forms of DHS repatriations (commonly referred to as deportations). An alien who is removed, as opposed to being returned or leaving the country under an order of voluntary departure, is subject to administrative penalties and may face criminal charges upon subsequent re-entry.
  • What is an Apprehension?
    • An apprehension is an action by a law enforcement agency to take physical control of a person.  The OIS Yearbook defines DHS apprehensions to include “apprehensions” by U.S. Border Patrol and “administrative arrests” by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
  • What is an Administrative Arrest?
    • A DHS administrative arrest is the arrest of an alien who is charged with removability under the provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).  References to administrative arrests in OIS reports refer exclusively to arrests by ICE (ERO and HSI) occurring within the interior of the United States.
  • What is a Detention?
    • DHS detention refers to the physical custody of an alien in order to hold them pending a determination whether the alien is removable from the United States, or while awaiting transportation to their country of citizenship after a final order of removal has been entered.  Unless otherwise specified, references to detention and “intake to detention” in OIS reports refer exclusively to detention by ICE during or after removal proceedings; they do not include short-term periods of time an individual is held by CBP during processing, prior to a removal or return, or prior to a transfer of custody to ICE or another appropriate entity.  They also do not include detention in Office of Refugee Resettlement or Mexican Interior Repatriation Program facilities.
  • What is the 287(g) Program?
    • The 287(g) program is a state and local cross-designation program authorized by INA § 287(g).  This program provides specific officers of participating state and local law enforcement agencies with the necessary delegation of authority, training, and resources to perform certain functions of an immigration officer under the direction of ICE.
Last Published Date: July 24, 2020

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