Monday, April 03, 2006

Permanent and temporary immigration

Justin's comments below about a permanent temporary underclass are well taken. The problem, is, however, a bit more restricted than might appear at first. It is true that a great many people come into the U.S. on "nonimmigrant" or temporary visas. [Interestingly, of permanent visa recipients, about 2/3 come in as immediate family members of current lawful permanent residents (LPRs). This is called "chain immigration" and is much criticized by opponents of immigration.] Nonimmigrant visas include H-1 visas for skilled workers, F visas for students, and L-1 visas for intracompany transfers.

There is, however, one absolutely critical point. Recently, there has been a trend towards allowing many of these visa types to be dual intent. There is no longer a requirement to show that the entrant's ties to his home country are strong enough to ensure return. H-1, F, and L-1 visas have dropped this requirement, and newer visas, like V, K, T, and U (including victims of crimes or trafficking), similarly break down the barriers between the temporary and permanent systems. Nearly 2/3 of status adjustments to LPR were already in the U.S. for other reasons, and many go through several visa stages (such as H-1 to F to K) on their way to LPR.

This basically indicates that, for the most part, we are moving to a joining of temporary and permanent systems into a single, transitional system. There is one exception: the H-2 visa for temporary agricultural workers. These visas are usually only for one year, extendable up to three years, and the worker must leave the country before he can then restart the process. This can go on forever; but it is more difficult to adjust this into LPR status. However, many nonimmigrant visa holders use their time in the U.S. to "get wise" about our immigration system, and get help from immigrant communities to find a way to convert. If a temporary laborer is interested in staying, it is not by any means an impossible goal.

How would Bush's bracero program change this? It would indeed increase the number of nonimmigrant visas that are hard to status-adjust to LPR. This brings up fears of Fiss's underclass. However, the program also tries to deal realistically with the flow of undocumented laborers who, as it stands, have few rights, are deportable at whim, and are hard to protect. It is unclear whether Bush's proposals, by bringing more illegal aliens under the immigration system, would do more good by protecting temporary residents, or more harm by increasing the inequalities in our society. These goods are hard to compare.

Some of these issues are dealt with in a paper , "The growing connection between the temporary and permanent immigration systems," from the Migration Policy Institute.


Blogger Justin Cox said...


Don't forget the visa that most foreigners enter our country on - tourist visas. Can't give you numbers here (though I'm sure they are out there), but a very large percenatage of illegal immigrants here are tourist visa overstays.

And tourist visas, btw, still require a strong showing of ties to one's home country - things like family, bank accounts, property, other assets, etc. If you can't show these ties, you're not getting a tourist visa (and the rejection rate at the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador, for example, is around 65%).

4:16 PM  
Blogger Sean Strasburg said...

This is absolutely true. Something like 90% of entrances to the US are on B visas (B-1 for business and B-2 for pleasure, I believe).

But these folks aren't supposed to stay. The fact that many do is a failure of the INS (now CIS/ICE) system. Isn't every single conversion that Bush's program makes (from an illegal overstay to a legal H-2 bracero) a net gain? That is, a temporary and illegal entrant had no voting rights and no civil rights, whereas a temporary and legal entrant will just have no voting rights. That's an improvement.

You might not support Bush if you want to jump directly to giving tons of people the vote; but I don't think that's politically feasible. Also, with strong enforcement of the restrictions of a bracero program, folks from El Salvador who *really* do want to come as legitimate tourists would have a higher acceptance rate, because there'd be less fear they'd be overstays.

Maybe. I don't know. It's possible that Bush is just idealistic, and with a bracero program there'll be just as many illegals as ever, and just added legal competition with America's poor. I wonder where the opposition to Bush comes from: those who think they have a better plan to get Bush's goals; those who want to protect America's poor; those who don't like amnesties; those who want to score political points; those who want even more open borders than we have now.

2:08 AM  

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