Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The mix of legal immigration

One oddity of the American immigration system is that comparatively few people are allowed to immigrate for work. The number of employment-based green cards available each year (140,000) is small compared with both the family-based green cards limited by quota (226,000) and the unlimited immediate relative category (~535,000 in 2009). Once you add the diversity visa and refugee and asylum admissions, employment accounted for only 12.7% of green cards issued in 2009. (Note that the 12.7% includes spouses and children included in an employment-based green card application.)

Compare this to Canada, where fully 64% of new permanent residents came as "economic immigrants" in 2008. In fact, Canada's share of immigrants selected in some way for their employability is higher than the employment-based share of immigration from any country that sent more than 1000 new permanent residents to the US in 2009, of which the ten highest shares were:
  1. South Korea: 54.7%
  2. France: 45.9%
  3. United Kingdom: 44.7%
  4. Canada: 42.9%
  5. Netherlands: 41.8%
  6. South Africa: 41.2%
  7. Malaysia: 37.3%
  8. Israel: 36.2%
  9. Sweden: 35.4%
  10. India: 35.4%
India, which we'd stereotype as a nation that sends mostly high-tech workers, contributes a proportion of employment-based immigrants that is far less than what we see overall in Canada.

I'm not arguing that we should lower the quotas on family-based immigration. In fact, at the very least we should increase the 7% per-country cap that results in absurd waiting times for countries like Mexico and the Philippines. But even if you're an immigration skeptic, it's worth noting that even a dramatic increase in the number of employment-based green cards would have a relatively minor impact on the overall level of immigration, while offering many profound benefits.

(Data extracted from Office of Information Statistics Profiles on Legal Permanent Residents by country of birth.)

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