China’s Air Pollution Spurs Immigration Applications

(Photo via World Journal)

“China’s air pollution is getting worse and worse. Many of our clients applying for immigration cite the smog as a reason. That prompted us to create a new client category called ‘environmental immigrants,’” said some immigration attorneys in New York.

People often expect the new year to bring a better life. But the air pollution in China not only didn’t get any better but it keeps getting worse. Many Chinese made the decision to immigrate because of the environmental problems. Immigration attorneys in New York said some undocumented Chinese immigrants even use the air quality problem as a basis for applying for deferred action, citing it as a form of “extreme hardship” in order to avoid being deported. So far, the air quality alone has not been deemed sufficient reason to approve deferred action applications. But clearly, it is becoming a significant reason for many Chinese immigrants to decide to stay.

Chin-Ming Yang, an immigration attorney, said two or three years ago, some of her clients who were applying for the EB-5 immigrant investment visa began to tell her that they wanted to leave China not only for the better education and senior care systems in the U.S. but also because of the air pollution in China. “China’s smog problem was just getting worse then. Many clients said they made the decision to leave after seeing their children coughing,” she said.

Since then, the air quality in China has been deteriorating, and more and more clients were driven to the U.S. because of this problem. The number of these clients is significant enough to make an individual category. “They are EB-5 investment immigrants. But we call them ‘environmental immigrants.’ And this category keeps growing,” Yang said.

Attorney Margaret Wong also found there are more and more clients emigrating to the U.S. to flee the smog in China. Many of them made the decision for their children’s health. “These clients all have very young kids. They cannot just come to study in the U.S. like the older kids,” said Wong. Some of her clients wisely applied for the EB-5 three or four years ago. Now they are able to come live in the U.S. every year in the winter, the worst season for smog. “The deteriorating environment prompted many Chinese who have the means to emigrate,” said Wong. “The exodus will keep rising before the problem is solved.”

Many Chinese immigrants who have already been living in the U.S. are also affected by the smog in China. Yang said in the past year, many undocumented Chinese immigrants who applied for I-601A and I-601 deferred action listed the smog as “extreme hardship,” which is a basis for approval as long as the applicant is able to prove his or her deportation would bring “extreme hardship” to his or her green card-holding or citizen spouses or parents. Some clients noted in the application that the smog could trigger the asthma of their spouses or parents if the family had to move back to China.

Yang said some undocumented immigrants only have citizen children (not spouse or parents). Theoretically they are not eligible to apply for the I-601A. But immigration services often gives special consideration to children’s health. So such undocumented immigrants can also try to argue that the children’s health would be affected by the smog if they had to move back to China. “Although China’s air quality seems like a faraway problem, it has some profound impact on the immigration applications in the U.S. And this will last for a while,” said Yang.

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