Characteristics of Legal Immigrants
Proposed immigration reform legislation would change the composition of legal immigration. That has been long espoused by FAIR. It was also recommended by the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform (USCIR). The Commission’s recommendations would have reduced family sponsored immigration and unskilled immigration, eliminated the visa lottery, and increased the share of employment-based immigration. Those changes to the system of immigrant admissions to some extent have been incorporated into existing immigration reform legislation. But the USCIR recommendations also included a major reduction in overall immigrant admissions, while the changes adopted in the Senate’s proposed legislation (S.744) would greatly expand immigrant admissions.
To understand better the effects of the various components of immigration on the workforce and the society, it is worth focusing on the characteristics of the current flow of newly admitted immigrants. Most importantly, what share are professional workers? What additional share has work experience? How many are children who will impact the public school system before they may join the workforce? How many are dependent on those joining the workforce because they are homemakers or retired?
Answers to questions may be found in data collected by the immigration authorities and reported in the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. Unfortunately, there is a data gap in the information collected. For FY2012, the most recent available, the data on employment characteristics do not include information on the characteristics for nearly three-tenths (29.9%) of the newly admitted immigrants. Nevertheless, the data that are available are revealing.
|Immediate relatives||Diversity||Refugees & asylees|
|kids & students||35.6%||49.4%||29.2%||25.6%||41.9%||49.3%|
- Employment-based immigrants, who were about one-seventh (14%) of overall admissions, had a majority (53.5%) with employment qualifications enabling them to find work to support their accompanying children and students (29.2%) as well as retired or other family members not working outside the home (17.3%). Most of those workers (46%) are professionals.
- Family-sponsored immigrants – nearly one-fifth (19.6%) of admissions – had a majority comprised of retired and non-employed homemakers (21.7%) and students and other children (49.4%). The result is that fewer than three-tenths (28.9%) of those immigrants were destined for the workforce. Of that minority of workers, 7.4% are professionals.
- The largest and fastest growing share of admissions (46.4%) is that composed of immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. The share of those immigrants destined for the workforce is also a minority (28.4%). Compared to family-sponsored immigrants, the share of retired and non-employed homemakers is much larger (46%) and the share of students and children is much smaller (25.6%).
- Refugees and asylees (14.6% of admissions) had the smallest share of professionals (4.6%). Those, combined with other workers (22%), comprised the smallest share (26.6%) of immigrants with current job skills.
- The smallest entry category (lottery visas) had characteristics similar to family-based immigration.
The following graphs depict the sharp differences in characteristics among the different categories of immigrant admission.