Wednesday, July 1, 2009

CRS Report on Legal Immigration

Here is a March 2009 Congressional Research Service report on immigration policy and legal immigration. As ImmigrationProf has argued previously, reform of the legal immigration admissions criteria is necesssary to get a handle on undocumented immigration.

Among other things, the report explains all of immigrant admissions categories--including numerical limits, admission trends, backlogs, processing delays, and pending legislative proposals.

Here is the summary of the report:

"Four major principles underlie current U.S. policy on permanent immigration: the reunification of families, the admission of immigrants with needed skills, the protection of refugees, and the diversity of admissions by country of origin. These principles are embodied in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The INA specifies a complex set of numerical limits and preference categories that give priorities for permanent immigration reflecting these principles. Legal permanent residents (LPRs) refer to foreign nationals who live permanently in the United States.

During FY2007, a total of 1.1 million aliens became LPRs in the United States. Of this total, 65.5% entered on the basis of family ties. Other major categories in FY2007 were employmentbased LPRs (including spouses and children) at 15.4%, and refugees/asylees adjusting to LPR status at 12.9%. Over 10% of all LPRs come from Mexico, which sent 148,640 LPRs in FY2007. Substantial efforts to reform legal immigration have failed in the recent past, prompting some to characterize the issue as a “zero-sum game” or a “third rail.” The challenge inherent in reforming legal immigration is balancing employers’ hopes to increase the supply of legally present foreign workers, families’ longing to re-unite and live together, and a widely shared wish among the various stakeholders to improve the policies governing legal immigration into the country.

Whether the Congress will act to alter immigration policies—either in the form of comprehensive immigration reform or in the form of incremental revisions aimed at strategic changes—is at the crux of the debate. Addressing these contentious policy reforms against the backdrop of economic crisis sharpens the social and business cleavages and may narrow the range of options.

Even as U.S. unemployment levels rise, employers assert that they continue to need the “best and the brightest” workers, regardless of their country of birth, to remain competitive in a worldwide market and to keep their firms in the United States. While support for the option of increasing employment based immigration may be dampened by the economic recession, proponents argue it is an essential ingredient for economic growth.

Proponents of family-based migration alternatively point to the significant backlogs in family based immigration due to the sheer volume of aliens eligible to immigrate to the United States and maintain that any proposal to increase immigration levels should also include the option of family-based backlog reduction. Citizens and LPRs often wait years for their relatives’ petitions to be processed and visa numbers to become available.

Against these competing priorities for increased immigration are those who offer options to scale back immigration levels, with options ranging from limiting family-based LPRs to the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens to confining employment-based LPRs exceptional, extraordinary, or outstanding individuals.

This report will be updated to reflect major legislative action."


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