Minnesotans For Sustainability©
Sustainable Society: A society that balances the environment, other life forms, and human interactions over an indefinite time period.
Legal Immigration: Setting Priorities
The National Interest
A properly regulated system of legal immigration is in the national interest of the United States. Such a system enhances the benefits of immigration while protecting against potential harms.
Immigrants often create new businesses and other employment-generating activities that promote the renewal of city neighborhoods and commercial districts. Immigrants also can strengthen America's economic and political ties with other nations and, thus, enhance our ability to compete in a global economy and provide leadership in international and humanitarian affairs. Properly regulated immigration further strengthens American scientific, literary, artistic and other cultural resources. It promotes family values and ties, important components of good schools and strong communities. At a time of troubling ethnic strife in many parts of the world, an effective American immigration policy can demonstrate to other countries that religious and ethnic diversity are compatible with national civic unity in a democratic and free society.
Legal immigration, however, has costs, as well as benefits. Immigrants with relatively low education and skills may compete for jobs and public services with the most vulnerable of Americans, particularly those who are unemployed or underemployed. Jobs generated by immigrant businesses do not always address this problem. Concentrated and/or rapid entry of immigrants into a locality may impose immediate net costs, particularly in education funding to meet the additional and special needs of newcomers. Concentration of new immigrants can exacerbate tensions among ethnic groups. Certain legal immigrant populations may impose other costs: refugees often need special health and other services, making per capita resettlement more costly than overseas solutions; elderly new immigrants are more likely to draw upon public services than elderly native-born Americans or immigrants who came to the United States at a younger age.
Immigrant Admissions by Major Category: FYs 1990-1994
Note: X = Not Applicable. Excludes persons granted LPR status under the provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Source: Immigration and Naturalization Service, Statistics Division
The recommendations in this report strongly affirm the value of a properly regulated immigration system. They seek to maximize the many positive opportunities that legal immigration presents to our nation. At the same time, the recommendations will help mitigate potential negative impacts, particularly on disadvantaged U.S. workers. Finally, the Commission's recommendations support effective Americanization of new immigrants, that is the cultivation of a shared commitment to the American values of liberty, democracy, and equal opportunity. These recommendations should help ensure that our legal immigration system will continue to serve the national interest of the United States.
Framework for Immigration Reform
The Commission supports the basic framework of current policy-family unification, employment-based immigration, and refugee admissions. We considered alternative frameworks, particularly a point system, but rejected these approaches. We believe that a system that relies on formulas and bureaucratic procedures for determining which immigrants meet the ability criteria for admission is not as effective in serving the national interest as one that relies on the judgment of American families and employers within a framework that protects U.S. workers from unfair competition. At the same time, the Commission is convinced that our current immigration system must undergo major reform to ensure that admissions continue to serve our national interests. Hence, the Commission recommends a significant redefinition of priorities and a reallocation of existing admission numbers to fulfill more effectively the objectives of our immigration policy.*
The Commission believes that our immigration system should rest upon certain basic principles.
Clear Goals and Priorities. Sound immigration policy must set out clear goals and give priority to the admission of those immigrants who best meet those goals.
Enforcement of Immigration Limits. An effectively regulated immigration policy establishes limits on the number of immigrants that are consistent with the goals of the various categories under which immigrants enter. Moreover, these limits must be enforceable and enforced. We underscore our commitment to curtailing illegal immigration as embodied in our 1994 recommendations. We will continue to monitor progress toward their implementation until the expiration of our mandate in September 1997.
Regular Periodic Review. An effectively regulated system requires some flexibility with regard to numbers so as to permit adjustment as circumstances in the United States change.
Clarity and Efficiency. Immigration policy should not be overly complex, and the mechanisms used to implement immigration policy should be efficient and comprehensible. The terms used should be as clear and self-explanatory as possible. The number of visas allocated to various immigrant categories should be sufficient to ensure the expeditious entry of those of highest priority. Backlogs in high priority categories undermine the purposes of immigration policy, while backlogs in lower priority categories give false hope to individuals whose admissions are of lesser national interest.
Enforcement of Sponsor Responsibility. A properly regulated immigration policy will hold sponsors accountable for keeping immigrants from becoming burdens on the American taxpayer and enforce that accountability through legally binding obligations.
Protection of U.S. Workers. A properly regulated system will also provide protection to American workers against unfair competition arising from immigrant categories that are designed to enhance U.S. economic strength. A higher level of job protection should be made available to the most vulnerable in our society.
Coherence. Both temporary and permanent admissions categories must be seen as integral parts of a coherent legal immigration policy. Temporary student, worker, and humanitarian categories are linked to permanent immigration. Inefficiencies and inconsistencies in the procedures for determining admissibility in permanent categories frequently lead employees, employers, and even family members to use temporary categories to gain entrance when the immigrant's true intention is permanent residence.
Americanization. Immigration policy is not credible without attention to English language training, civic education, and preparation for naturalization and effective citizen participation. Americanization-by which we mean cultivation of a shared commitment to the American values of liberty, democracy, and equal opportunity-is desirable and possible regardless of the nationality, native language, or religious background of immigrants and their children.
A Transition Period. Fundamental immigration
reform, as proposed by the Commission, requires a period of transition to get
from the present system to the new one. We recommend prudent, measured steps to
make that transition possible.
The following recommendations will contribute to a more accountable and credible application of our immigration policy:
The Commission supports a tripartite immigration policy that permits the
entry of nuclear family members, professional and skilled workers, and refugees
and other humanitarian admissions.
The Commission proposes a core immigration admissions level of 550,000 per year, to be divided as follows:
Immigration supports the national interest by promoting strong and intact nuclear families-that is, the basic social unit consisting of parents and their dependent children living in one household. Immigration contributes to this national interest by permitting the entry of close family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who otherwise may be separated for years. Immigration policy also can contribute to the strength of U.S. families by ensuring that immigrants receive any needed financial support from their own relatives and, thus, impose no financial burdens upon the taxpaying public.
A prioritization of family relationships to determine who will be admitted through family-based immigration, with admission numbers going to those who are of the highest priority. Only to the extent that visas are available after the demand in higher priorities is met should visas be made available to lower priority categories. Following this reasoning, the Commission makes further recommendations.
Spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens should continue to be admitted as the first priority. Also to be admitted under this priority are the small number of adult children dependent on U.S. citizen parents because of a mental or physical disability. This policy permits the expeditious entry of the closest family members while reinforcing the notion that citizenship confers additional benefits on those who become fully participating members of our polity.
Parents of U.S. citizens should be admitted as the second priority. This
permits adult children to sponsor their parents, most of whom are past working
age. However, the Commission is mindful of the potential negative impacts that
the entry of parents may pose for the U.S. taxpayer if these individuals utilize
Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid, and similar programs. Therefore, the
Commission believes that continued admission of parents should be contingent on
a legally enforceable affidavit of support. The affidavit should ensure that
parents who are unable to work enough quarters to become eligible for Social
Security or Medicare do not become a burden to taxpayers through use of SSI,
Medicaid, or equivalent state and local services.
We believe that priority for clearance of the backlog should go first to the spouses and minor children of LPRs who entered lawfully under the regular immigration preferences. Only afterwards should expedited admission be offered to the spouses and minor children of LPRs who entered under one of the legalization provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act.
The Commission recommends this separate treatment of the family members of those who became permanent residents through regular immigration and those who legalized under IRCA because:
As of December 31, 1995, most legalized aliens will be eligible to
naturalize. As citizens, they will be able to expedite the admission of their
spouses and minor children without using the additional visas earmarked for LPRs.
The Commission recommends elimination of these categories for several reasons.
The numbers now used to admit these individuals in more extended family relationships could be used instead to reduce the waiting time for closer family members without raising the overall levels of immigration.
Elimination of these preferences will remove extraordinary backlogs that now undermine the credibility of our policy. Credible immigration policy should not give false hopes to applicants. An individual now applying under the sibling category, for example, could not expect to enter the U.S. legally for more than a decade. Applicants from the Philippines face the longest waiting period-as much as forty years for those applying today.
Unless there is a compelling national interest to do otherwise, immigrants should be chosen on the basis of the skills they contribute to the U.S. economy. The Commission believes that admission of nuclear family members and refugees provide such a compelling national interest. Reunification of adult children and siblings of adult citizens solely because of their family relationship is not as compelling.
The Commission recommends amendment of Section 201(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act [INA] to provide that otherwise unused immigrant visa numbers for a fiscal year be made available to people who have a priority date that would entitle them to processing in that year but who were not issued visas.
Given the large backlog of spouses and minor children, all efforts should be made to ensure their expeditious entry by fully utilizing authorized visas. Under current policy visas unused because of administrative delay or personal reasons are lost. Allowing such unused visas to be made available to otherwise eligible immigrants after the end of that fiscal year ensures that all the visas allocated for family-sponsored immigrants would be used and charged to the given fiscal year. The new fiscal year visa numbers would not reflect an increase in visas allocated over the annual worldwide limit for family-based immigration.
For example, if 400,000 visas were allocated for family-sponsored immigrants
in FY 1997, and during that year only 390,000 visas were issued because 10,000
immigrants were delayed beyond the end of the fiscal year, the remaining 10,000
visas could be issued to the delayed or other eligible aliens during the next
fiscal year but would count toward the original year. Under the proposed
amendment, the Department of State could charge to FY 1997 all visas allocated
in that year even though the visas themselves might not be issued in FY 1997. As
the recommendation affects only aliens already entitled to a visa, annual number
limitations would not be exceeded.
Immigration can support the national interest by bringing to the U.S. individuals whose skills would benefit our society. It also can help U.S. businesses compete in the global economy. This national interest in the competitiveness of business must be balanced by an equally compelling national interest in developing a U.S. workforce that has the skills necessary to compete in the global economy.
Labor market-tested foreign workers permitted to immigrate to the United States under these categories should include only those who have attained a baccalaureate or higher academic degree or those who are needed to fill jobs that require a high level of specific skills above the entry or journeyman level.
Categories that would require a test of the domestic labor market include:
The Commission recommends the elimination of the
admission of unskilled workers. Unless there is another compelling
interest, such as in the entry of nuclear families and refugees, it is not in
the national interest to admit unskilled workers.
The Commission is not satisfied with current labor certification procedures because they are neither timely enough to meet the needs of employers with a bona fide interest in hiring a foreign worker nor effective in protecting the interests of U.S. workers. We seek to replace a failed and expensive regulatory system with one that is market-driven. (The cost to the federal government was about $70 million in 1992 and is estimated to be about $60 million in 1995.) The Commission recommends replacing the labor certification procedure with a more timely and effective labor market test.
To demonstrate the bona fide need for a foreign worker and to increase the competitiveness of U.S. workers, an employer should be required to pay a substantial fee, that is, make a substantial financial investment into a certified private sector initiative dedicated to increasing the competitiveness of U.S. workers, for example through education and training. Employers seeking to hire foreign workers already incur substantial financial costs and face lengthy processing delays. Under the Commission's proposal, the fee would go towards developing a well-trained U.S. workforce rather than supporting costly bureaucratic processes. To ensure that the employer, and not the foreign worker, pays the fee, penalties should be imposed upon violators.
Employers should demonstrate that they have engaged in appropriate attempts to find a qualified U.S. worker using normal company recruitment procedures that meet industry-wide standards and offering wages that are at least 5 percent above the prevailing wage.
The resulting permanent resident status so obtained should be conditional for a two-year period. Conditional status would be removed at the end of that period if the foreign worker is still employed by the same employer at the same or higher level and if the employer demonstrates that the attested wage has been paid. The law should specify conditions under which the foreign worker could obtain a waiver of the two-year requirement. For example, it could be waived in situations where unanticipated circumstances, such as layoffs or business failure, occur or where an employer's unfair labor practices would render the foreign worker subject to abuse. To prevent both fraud and abuse against workers, penalties should be authorized.
To provide greater flexibility and allow for market adjustments, the
Commission recommends that skill-based visas not used in a fiscal year be
carried over to the next year's skill-based numbers.
The Commission strongly affirms that the United States should continue its commitment to resettle refugees as one of several elements of humanitarian protection for the persecuted. Refugee admissions fulfill a humanitarian commitment to provide protection and assistance to those who otherwise would be persecuted or endangered.
The Commission recommends that, on an interim basis:
Allocating a set number of refugee admissions, with provisions to exceed this number in case of an emergency or other changed circumstances, ensures a continued U.S. commitment to resettlement, particularly following the expected closure of the current refugee programs in Southeast Asia and, possibly, the former Soviet Union. These two programs account for almost 80 percent of current resettlement (about 87,000 out of 112,000 admissions in FY 1994).
Reform of the current consultation process is needed to ensure Congressional oversight of decisions made to exceed the 50,000 limit. Current consultations are often pro forma and occur very late in the planning process. As discussed below, the Commission will provide recommendations on mechanisms for decisionmaking on numbers in a forthcoming report.
The U.S. should take leadership in generating international responses to refugee crises, with particular focus on international burdensharing and regional solutions. Future policies also must take into account the relative weight to be given resettlement versus the other avenues open to the United States to help protect and assist refugees worldwide, including support for repatriation of refugees to their homelands when conditions permit.
The Commission recommends a thorough assessment of the criteria used to admit refugees for resettlement and the procedures for their admission. The contexts for making future policy regarding refugee resettlement are in flux. The refugee resettlement program must be revamped to meet the needs of a post-Cold War world. Today extreme nationalism and ethnic conflicts produce massive population displacements while resolution of other conflicts is permitting large-scale voluntary repatriation. Resettlement criteria should take into account the protection of refugees who otherwise would be endangered in a country of origin or asylum and who would have no other alternatives.
The Commission is reviewing a variety of issues related to refugee resettlement, including: the priority system; in-country refugee processing; country-specific legislation; procedural issues; congressional and Executive Branch roles, including the consultation process; the role of international organizations; parole authority; and domestic assistance, including the role of the state and local organizations (e.g., nongovernmental organizations and voluntary agencies).
Specific recommendations on refugee resettlement-which may include
modification of the above interim recommendations-will be included in a future
Commission report. This report also will include recommendations related to
Temporary Workers and Foreign Students. The Commission intends to examine in depth the nonimmigrant temporary worker and foreign student systems and their relationships to permanent immigration. In particular, we will be looking at ways to simplify and achieve greater coordination in these systems and to make recommendations as a result of this study. A high percentage of applicants for permanent skill-based admission are already in this country on temporary work or student visas. Businesses that intend to petition for permanent visas for new hires frequently obtain temporary visas first because of long delays in processing. In addition, a significant number of individuals admitted for temporary study or work seek permanent jobs during their stay. As noted above, these categories of temporary admission must be seen as integral parts of a coherent legal immigration policy. The Commission will address these specific issues in a later report.
Agriculture Guestworker Program. The Commission believes that an agriculture guestworker program, sometimes referred to as a revisiting of the "bracero agreement," is not in the national interest and unanimously and strongly agrees that such a program would be a grievous mistake.
First, the Commission is highly skeptical of the need for an agricultural guestworker program at this time or in the near future. Proponents of such a program have failed to demonstrate that a labor shortage is about to occur or that there are no means other than a guestworker program available to agricultural producers to obtain sufficient employees in their industry.
Guestworker programs effectively expand rural poverty. Moreover, guestworker programs are predicated on limitations on the freedom of those who are invited to enter and work. Experience has shown that such limitations are incompatible with the values of democratic societies. For that very reason, "temporary" guestworkers tend to become permanent residents, de facto or even de jure. The inconsistency between the stated intent of guestworker programs and their actual consequences cannot be ignored by policymakers who seek credibility in a reformed system.
Religious and cultural diversity does not pose a threat to the national interest as long as public policies ensure civic unity. Such policies should help newcomers learn to speak, read, and write English effectively. They should strengthen civic understanding in the teaching of American history for all Americans. They should lead to the vigorous enforcement of laws against hate crimes and of laws to deter and to punish discrimination. Of course, such policies should encourage the naturalization of immigrants as the path to full civic participation.
At the same time, immigration to the United States should be understood as a privilege, not a right. Immigration carries with it obligations to embrace the common core of the American civic culture, to become able to communicate—to the extent possible— in English with other citizens and residents, and to adapt to fundamental constitutional principles and democratic institutions.
In its further deliberations, the Commission will consider other public
policies that are believed by some to encourage ethnocentrism in the name of
multiculturalism or to promote political separatism in the name of civil rights.
For example: Do bilingual education and affirmative action as applied to
immigrants and their children promote or diminish civic unity? Now that
immigrants come from more than 160 nations and many more ethnic groups, it is
extremely important that public policies facilitate, not inhibit, the
Americanization of newcomers.
Naturalization is the most visible manifestation of civic incorporation. At present, there is greater interest in naturalization than there is a capacity to act upon this interest. Large backlogs must be overcome so that the nation can benefit from the growing commitment of immigrants to become American citizens.
The Commission strongly recommends that INS adopt and implement as a strategic goal the reduction of processing time and backlogs for naturalization while maintaining rigorous standards in processing applications. The Commission also urges Congress to appropriate sufficient resources to support the implementation of this strategic goal. Applicants for naturalization pay a fee designed to cover the costs of the application process. The fees go into an account dedicated to use for examinations. The Commission believes that naturalization applicants have the right to receive the timely service that their fee represents. Naturalization fees should not subsidize other activities. Nor should an efficient naturalization procedure require a reallocation of resources from other priority functions. If the current fee is not adequate to cover the full costs of timely naturalization, it should be increased appropriately.
Further, the Commission urges INS to:
These interim conclusions and recommendations on legal immigration to the United States are a first step in the Commission's examination of the implementation and impact of our legal immigration system. Together with our earlier recommendations on illegal immigration, they seek to restore credibility to our immigration policies.
This report defines the national interest in immigration. It outlines mechanisms that permit the expeditious entry of those who are of highest priority for admission while mitigating potential harmful effects on U.S. communities and vulnerable populations.
The Commission continues our longer-term investigation of the impact of legal
immigration on the United States. Based on the results of these studies, the
Commission expects to make further recommendations on legal immigration in our
final report to Congress in 1997.
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