Friday, November 7, 2014

Congressional Research Service: Permanent Legal Immigration to the United States: Policy Overview

Here is the summary to this Congressional Research Service report:

The pool of people who are eligible to immigr ate to the United States as legal permanent residents (LPRs) each year typically exceeds the worldwide level set by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). In an effort to process the demand for LPR visas fairly and in the national interest, LPR admissions are subject to a complex set of numerical limits and preference categories that give priority for admission on the basis of family relationships, needed skills, and geographic diversity. The INA further specifies that each year, countries are held to a numerical limit of 7% of the worldwide level of U.S. immigrant admissions, known as per-country limits or country caps.

In FY2013, just under 1 million aliens became U.S. legal permanent residents (LPRs). Of this total, 65.6% entered the United States on the basis of family ties. Other major categories of LPRs were employment-based (16.3%), refugees and asylees (12.1%), and diversity migrants (4.6%). In FY2013, Mexico was the source country of 13.6% of LPRs who were admitted or who adjusted status. Other top countries were China (7.2%), India (6.9%), the Philippines (5.5%), and the Dominican Republic (4.2%). Rather than newly arriving from abroad, 53.6% (530,802) were adjusting to LPR status from a temporary (i.e., nonimmigrant) status within the United States.

There were 4.4 million approved LPR visa petitions pending with the National Visa Center at the end of FY2013 because of the numerical limits in the INA, most of which are family-based petitions. These data do not constitute a backlog of petitions to be processed; rather, these data represent persons who have been approved for visas that are not yet available due to the numerical limits in the INA. Visas are generally available for unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens who filed in FY2006, but there are even l onger waits for unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens from Mexico and the Philippines. Prospective family-sponsored immigrants from the Philippines have the most substantial waiting times before a visa is scheduled to become available to them; consular officers are now considering the petitions of the brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens from the Philippines who filed almost 24 years ago.

Most agree that revision of the system of permanent legal immigration should be one of the major components of a comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) proposal, along with increased border security and enforcement of immigration laws within the U.S. interior, reform of temporary worker visas, and options to address the millions of unauthorized aliens residing in the country. Congress is considering proposals to alter the legal immigration system—either in the form of CIR or in the form of incremental revisions aimed at strategic changes.

Some are advocating for a significant reallocation of the visa categories or a substantial increase in legal immigration to satisfy the desire of U.S. families to reunite with their relatives abroad and to meet the labor force needs of employers hiri ng foreign workers. Yet, proponents of family- based migration maintain that any proposal to increase immigration should also include the option of additional family-based visas to reduce waiting times—currently up to years or decades—for those already “in the queue.” Arguing against these competing priorities for increased immigration are those who favor reduced immigration, including proposals to limit family-based LPRs to the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, to confine employment-based LPRs to highly skilled workers, and to eliminate the diversity visas.


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