Published On: Mon, Apr 15th, 2019

Immigration at a glance: US encourages legal émigrés To help grow jobs (EB visas); aid the nation’s economy

The United States has been positively shaped by successive waves of immigrants, from the time of the original colonists through the modern era. For more than two centuries, immigrants have arrived in the U.S. seeking a better life for them and their families. In the process, they have molded and shaped our society and culture, and their impact on our economy has been no less significant.

By changing population growth and levels of ethnicity, immigration created the great neighborhoods of the 19th century in places like New York, Boston, Chicago, and Miami. Spaniards made their mark in Florida, California, and Texas; Italians gathered in North Boston and in Rhode Island. Chinese and Irish laid the tracks for the great railroads of the 19th century.

Today, the foreign-born rely on various types of visas to make their way to this nation. The U.S. issued 533,557 immigrant visas and 9,028,026 nonimmigrant visas in 2018. This is down slightly in both categories from 2017 when 559,536 immigrant visas and 9,681,913 visas were issued.

The number of visas has dropped each since the figure hit a high in 2015.

In 2017, immigrants made up nearly 14 percent of the U.S. population, a sharp increase from historically low rates of the 1960s and 1970s, but a level commonly reached in the 19th century, says a report from the Brookings Institute. Given native-born Americans’ relatively low birth rates, immigrants and their children now provide essentially all the net prime-age population growth in the U.S.

These basic facts suggest that immigrants are taking on a larger role in the U.S. economy. This role is not precisely the same as that of native-born Americans. Immigrants tend to work in different jobs with different skills sets. However, despite the size of the foreign-born population, immigrants tend to have relatively small impacts on the wages of native-born workers, the report adds.

At the same time, immigrants generally have constructive influences on both government finances and the innovation that leads to productivity growth.

The U.S. does accommodate those coming from foreign nations to work in the United States by issuing EB – or Employment-Based Immigrant Visas. Workers from other countries can permanently immigrate to the United States with EB Visas, and after five years of being a lawful, permanent resident, foreign nationals may apply for U.S. citizenship.

In the past decade and particularly today, immigration policy has become a hotly debated topic for a variety of reasons that have little to do with a careful assessment of the evidence. Political disagreements over immigration management at U.S. borders, particularly the stretch between the United States and Mexico, have fueled anger among national leaders, but individual immigrants have been spared any personal wrath.

Those seeking entry into the U.S. are simply urged to follow proper procedure. Those who don’t face prosecution or deportation, under laws that are the right of any sovereign nation to impose.

Visa programs have evolved both negatively and positively over the years, according to reports from Pew Research. Nearly 34 million lawful immigrants live in the United States today. Many reside and work here after receiving lawful permanent residence (also known as a “green card”), while others receive temporary visas available to students and workers, as mentioned above.

In addition, roughly a million unauthorized immigrants have temporary permission to live and work in the U.S. through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status programs.

For years, various proposals have sought to shift the nation’s immigration system away from its current emphasis on family reunification and employment-based migration, and toward a points-based system that prioritizes the admission of immigrants with certain education and employment qualifications. These proposals have received renewed attention under the Trump administration.

Here are key details about existing U.S. immigration programs:

  • In fiscal 2016, 804,793 people received family-based U.S. lawful permanent residence. With the assistance of professional green card services, this program allows someone to receive a green card if they already have a spouse, child, sibling or parent living in the country with S. citizenship or, in some cases, a green card.
  • Immigrants from countries with large numbers of applicants often wait for years to receive a green card because a single country can account for no more than 7% of all green cards issued annually.
  • Today, family-based immigration – referred to by some as “chain migration” – is the most common way people gain green cards, in recent years accounting for about 70% of the more than 1 million people who receive them annually.

The U.S. admitted 84,995 refugees in fiscal 2016, a total that declined to 53,716 in fiscal 2017 – the fewest admissions since 2007. This decline reflects a lower admissions cap.

For fiscal 2018, refugee admissions have been capped at 45,000, the lowest since Congress created the modern refugee program in 1980 for that fleeing persecution in their home countries.

Pew studies say one of Trump’s first acts as president in 2017 was to freeze refugee admissions, citing security concerns. Admissions from most countries eventually restarted, though applicants from 11 nations deemed “high risk” by the administration were admitted on a case-by-case basis. In January 2018, refugee admissions resumed for all countries.

Each year, about 50,000 people receive green cards through the U.S. diversity visa program, also known as the visa lottery. Since the effort began in 1995, more than 1 million immigrants have received green cards through the lottery. Trump has said he wants to eliminate the program, which seeks to diversify the U.S. immigrant population by granting visas to underrepresented nations. Citizens of countries with the most legal immigrant arrivals in recent years – such as Mexico, Canada, China, and India – are not eligible to apply.

This topic will be addressed further in the next column, which will discuss at greater length H-visas and green cards, among other subjects.

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