NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 28, 2007

Making sure that the workers we need can come here legally should be a priority -- but it's not.  Of the permanent-resident visas (green cards) awarded in 2005, 58 percent went to foreign-born relatives of United States citizens; only 22 percent were connected to employment.  It makes no sense that roughly as many green cards are available to adult siblings and adult children of citizens -- with no regard for their job abilities -- as for skilled workers, says the New York Times.

There are shortages of both temporary and permanent visas for scientists, engineers, mathematicians, doctors and nurses.  Many talented people simply give up on waiting and take their skills elsewhere.

Our economy depends heavily on skilled immigration:

  • Half of research and development workers, one-quarter of doctors and nurses, and a quarter of all doctoral degree holders were born in other countries.
  • Government and trade groups estimate that we need some 20,000 more doctors and 300,000 more nurses.
  • Yet because only 140,000 employment-based visas are available each year, skilled workers can wait five years or more for a green card.
  • Annual per-country visa caps make the wait even longer for high-migration countries like India and China, which send us many engineers and scientists, or the Philippines, which sends many nurses.

Skilled workers with professional careers are less likely than unskilled, low-wage workers to risk working under the table.  A few lucky ones obtain visas when they marry American citizens.  Even those who get green cards can find their spouses and children entangled in the system; there's a six-year wait to reunite the nuclear family of a Mexican green card holder.

Phasing out family-based preferences for adult siblings and adult children would free up 138,066 green cards a year, nearly doubling the size of the job-based category and making space for green card holders to bring wives and younger children.  Adult siblings and adult children could still immigrate under more readily available job-based visas, says the Times.

Source: Michele Wucker, "Family Second," New York Times, February 28, 2007.

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