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Thursday, June 6, 2013

What's in the Immigration Bill?

Very few of us are apt to read all of the provisions of the Immigration bill that will be debated in the Senate next week. It is unlikely that even the senators voting on the bill will have read it all, although I suspect that one or more staff members of each senator will have done so. So, we need to be thankful for the fact that Migration Policy Institute has provided a detailed analysis of what's in there.
“If enacted, the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill would represent the most significant restructuring of the U.S. legal immigration system since 1965,” said MPI Senior Fellow Doris Meissner, who directs the institute’s U.S. Immigration Policy Program. “The legislation would rebalance the system away from temporary and toward more permanent employment-based immigration, provide new pathways for middle- and low-skilled workers to gain work visas, reduce future backlogs and wait times, and add much-needed flexibility.”
In particular, because of the new emphasis on bringing in people with specific labor force skills, the fraction of visas for legal immigration each year that go to family members will decline, but largely because more visas will be issued, not because family reunification would be cut back.
Among the brief’s findings:

* Total admissions in the employment- and merit-based categories combined could increase almost four- or even fivefold under the Senate legislation, from approximately 140,000 green cards to 554,000-696,000 per year.
* The large increase in skills-based green cards would likely reduce waiting times for many applicants already in the country on temporary work visas — re-orienting the system away from temporary and toward more permanent employment-based immigration, especially for those applying in newly uncapped, high-skill categories.
* The Senate bill would dramatically expand options for low- and middle-skilled foreign workers to fill year-round, longer-term jobs and ultimately qualify for permanent residence. * Under the current system, low-skilled immigration has been largely limited to temporary and short-term (less than one year) visas.
*The share of immigrants selected on the basis of their skills would rise from 6 percent of all green cards for principal applicants in 2012 to as much as 19 percent in 2018.
* While most workers would require a job offer or significant U.S. experience, the legislation would permit PhD holders (in any field) from U.S. or foreign schools to apply for a green card without an offer of employment. The PhD provision has no numerical cap.
What is most striking about this analysis is the lack of focus in the bill on undocumented immigrants and securing the border. Those have been the hot button issues, but the MPI analysis offers a glimpse into a much more sophisticated and, we can hope, more useful immigration policy than we currently have. 

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