Changing the face of immigration?
Some Senate plans for immigration reform would cut the number of family visas to admit more people based on their job skills, reports Friday’s Washington Post. This would be a big change from current policy, one that would significantly change the characteristics of new immigrants.
Most people who now receive green cards (that is, become legal permanent residents) are admitted to join family already living in the United States: 44 percent of green cards went to citizens’ children, spouses, and parents; 21 percent went to family members of legal permanent residents. Fourteen percent of green cards (about 143,000) now go to employment immigrants, a share that also includes the workers’ families.
Most people currently admitted based on job skills work in management or professional occupations, while most admitted based on family connections work in lower-skilled—and lower-paying—occupations. Specifically, 87 percent of immigrants admitted based on work skills in 2011 held management and professional jobs, compared to only 25–29 percent of those admitted for family reasons.
The proposed shift in priorities for immigrant admission also means big changes in the mix of immigrants’ countries of origin. Employment immigrants hail from a more concentrated set of countries than family immigrants do. Most people admitted based on job skills emigrate from Asia, while those admitted based on family connections come from all over the world.
People admitted based on job skills are more likely to be men, are more likely to be married already, and are older than those admitted based on family connections. The young, the single, women, and immigrants from outside Asia could see their share of the immigration pie reduced if employment immigration is favored.
The United States clearly needs to tune immigration policy to its economic and labor market goals. But we also need immigration policy to reflect our national character, designing it to foster not only economic integration, but also social and civic integration. Immigration policy is by its nature exclusionary: it decides who comes in and who stays out. Some lines of exclusion, though, were clearly rejected when we eliminated country and racial quotas by revising the Immigration and Naturalization Act in 1965. We must be careful that employment-based immigration does not take us back to the old days.