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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Immigration: The Effects on Low-Skilled and High-Skilled Native-Born Workers

Linda Levine
Specialist in Labor Economics

The large influx of immigrants in recent decades has led to an equally long debate over their effect on the labor market outcomes of native-born workers. Economic theory posits that an increase in the supply of labor, such as from immigration, will reduce the wage employers are willing to pay all workers (native-born and foreign-born) in a given labor market. As a result, some of the workers who had been earning a higher wage before the increase in labor supply will be unwilling to accept a lower wage and they will leave that labor market. The economic model assumes, however, that labor is homogenous. But, workers enter the United States possessing different skill levels and they therefore will compete with (i.e., put downward wage pressure on) native-born workers possessing very similar skill levels. 

Economists have conducted empirical studies to measure the labor market effects of immigration that take into account the skill composition of foreign-born vis-à-vis native-born workers. They have employed two different approaches to do so. 

The concentration of foreign-born workers in certain cities and skill groups led some economists to posit that immigration's greatest impact would be felt by similarly skilled native-born workers living in those areas. Studies thus have compared differences in labor market outcomes between native-born workers who live in high- versus low-immigrant areas and who most often compete for jobs with foreign-born workers; given the composition of the recent immigrant flow, these would be low-skilled U.S. workers. Most inter-area analyses have found scant evidence that foreign-born labor adversely affects the labor market prospects of U.S. workers in general. A few cross-city studies have estimated a slight negative impact on low-skilled natives. 

Other economists have argued that the cross-city approach underestimates immigration's consequences because it assumes that labor, capital, and goods do not rapidly adjust to the immigration-induced increase in the supply of labor. If, for example, native-born competitors quickly leave labor markets in high-immigrant areas, their movements would spread any wage effects due to immigration across the nation, and thereby make it difficult for spatially based research to detect any impact. Some analysts, therefore, have concluded that immigration's labor market effects can best be identified by examining data at the national level. 

For many years, national studies estimated that immigration in the short-run substantially reduced the wages of native-born workers in each skill (education-experience) group. Native-born workers who lacked a high school diploma were determined to be the most severely affected. More recent national studies have estimated the adverse wage effect of immigration in the shortrun to be much smaller, even among the least skilled. The different results in part stem from the finding that workers with at most a high school degree are close substitutes for workers without a degree, which dampens the competitive effect of immigration on the least skilled workers. A 2009 study that utilized cross-city data similarly estimated that the two groups do not compete with one another; as a result, any adverse effect of low-skilled immigrants is not concentrated on the relatively few native-born workers who are high school dropouts.


Date of Report: April 13, 2010
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: 95-408
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

U.S. Immigration Policy on Permanent Admissions

Ruth Ellen Wasem
Specialist in Immigration Policy

Four major principles underlie current U.S. policy on permanent immigration: the reunification of families, the admission of immigrants with needed skills, the protection of refugees, and the diversity of admissions by country of origin. These principles are embodied in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The INA specifies a complex set of numerical limits and preference categories that give priorities for permanent immigration reflecting these principles. Legal permanent residents (LPRs) refer to foreign nationals who live permanently in the United States. 

During FY2008, a total of 1.1 million aliens became LPRs in the United States. Of this total, 64.7% entered on the basis of family ties. Other major categories in FY2008 were employment based LPRs (including spouses and children) at 15.0%, and refugees/asylees adjusting to LPR status at 15.0%. Over 17% of all LPRs come from Mexico, which sent 189,989 LPRs in FY2008. 

Substantial efforts to reform legal immigration have failed in the recent past, prompting some to characterize the issue as a "zero-sum game" or a "third rail." The challenge inherent in reforming legal immigration is balancing employers' hopes to increase the supply of legally present foreign workers, families' longing to re-unite and live together, and a widely shared wish among the various stakeholders to improve the policies governing legal immigration into the country. Whether the Congress will act to alter immigration policies—either in the form of comprehensive immigration reform or in the form of incremental revisions aimed at strategic changes—is at the crux of the debate. Addressing these contentious policy reforms against the backdrop of high unemployment sharpens the social and business cleavages and may narrow the range of options. 

Even as U.S. unemployment levels remain high, employers assert that they continue to need the "best and the brightest" workers, regardless of their country of birth, to remain competitive in a worldwide market and to keep their firms in the United States. While support for the option of increasing employment-based immigration may be dampened by the level of unemployment, proponents argue it is an essential ingredient for economic growth. Other possible options are to admit LPRs on the basis of a point system comprised of education and needed skills or to establish a independent agency or commission that would set the levels and types of employmentbased immigrants. 

Proponents of family-based migration alternatively point to the significant backlogs in family based immigration due to the sheer volume of aliens eligible to immigrate to the United States and maintain that any proposal to increase immigration levels should also include the option of family-based backlog reduction. Citizens and LPRs often wait years for their relatives' petitions to be processed and visa numbers to become available. Possible options include treating the immediate relatives of LPRs as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are treated under the INA, i.e., not held to numerical limits or per-country ceilings. 

Against these competing priorities for increased immigration are those who offer options to scale back immigration levels, with options ranging from limiting family-based LPRs to the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens to confining employment-based LPRs exceptional, extraordinary, or outstanding individuals.



Date of Report: April 1, 2010
Number of Pages: 41
Order Number: RL32235
Price: $29.95

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U.S. Immigration Policy on Haitian Migrants

Ruth Ellen Wasem
Specialist in Immigration Policy

The environmental, social, and political conditions in Haiti have long prompted congressional interest in U.S. policy on Haitian migrants, particularly those attempting to reach the United States by boat. While some observers assert that such arrivals by Haitians are a breach in border security, others maintain that these Haitians are asylum seekers following a decades old practice of Haitians coming by boat without legal immigration documents. Migrant interdiction and mandatory detention are key components of U.S. policy toward Haitian migrants, but human rights advocates express concern that Haitians are not afforded the same treatment as other asylum seekers. 

The devastation caused by the January 12, 2010, earthquake in Haiti has led Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitians in the United States at the time of the earthquake. The scale of current humanitarian crisis—estimated thousands of Haitians dead and reported total collapse of the infrastructure in the capital city of Port au Prince—resulted in this TPS announcement on January 15, 2010. Secretary Napolitano also announced that Haitian children who were legally confirmed as orphans eligible for intercountry adoption by the government of Haiti and who were in the process of being adopted by U.S. residents prior to the earthquake have been given humanitarian parole to come to the United States. Other Haitian orphans potentially eligible for humanitarian parole include children who were identified by an adoption service provider or facilitator as eligible for intercountry adoption and who were matched to prospective American adoptive parents prior to January 12, 2010. 

Those Haitians who are deemed Cuban-Haitian Entrants are among the subset of foreign nationals who are eligible for federal benefits and cash assistance. Those Haitians who are newly arriving legal permanent residents, however, are barred from the major federal benefits and cash assistance for the first five years after entry. The President has included funding to cover additional costs for federal benefits and cash assistance resulting from Haitian evacuees, among other activities in his FY2010 supplemental request. 

According to the U.S. Department of State (DOS), there are 54,716 Haitians who have approved petitions to immigrate to the United States and who are waiting for visas to become available. Advocates for Haitians are asking Secretary Napolitano to give humanitarian parole to those Haitians with approved petitions for visas. Proponents of expediting the admission of Haitians with family in the United States maintain that it would relieve at least some of the humanitarian burden in Haiti and would increase the remittances sent back to Haiti to provide critical help as the nation tries to rebuild. Those opposed to expediting the admission of Haitians assert that it would not be in the national interest, nor would it be fair to other foreign nationals waiting to reunite with their families. 

More broadly, there are concerns that the crisis conditions in Haiti may result in mass migration from the island. Agencies within DHS that are the leads in handling a potential mass migration include the U.S. Coast Guard (interdiction); Customs and Border Protection (apprehensions and inspections); Immigration and Customs Enforcement (detention and removal); and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (credible fear determinations). The balancing of DHS's border security and immigration control responsibilities in the midst of a humanitarian disaster poses a challenge.


Date of Report: March 31, 2010
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: RS21349
Price: $29.95

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Friday, April 2, 2010

Immigration: Policy Considerations Related to Guest Worker Programs

Andorra Bruno
Specialist in Immigration Policy

The United States has two main programs for temporarily importing low-skilled workers, or guest workers. Agricultural guest workers enter through the H-2A visa program, and other guest workers enter through the H-2B visa program. Before an employer can file a petition with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to import workers under either program, the employer must apply to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) for a certification that U.S. workers capable of performing the work are not available and that the employment of alien workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers. Other requirements of the programs differ. 

In December 2008, DHS and DOL published final rules to significantly amend their H-2A and H- 2B regulations. The new rules became effective on January 17, 2009. Under the Obama Administration, DOL proposed a new H-2A rule to replace the 2008 rule. This rule was published in final form in February 2010 and went into effect on March 15, 2010. The Administration left intact the 2008 H-2A rule issued by DHS and the 2008 H-2B rules issued by DHS and DOL. 

The DHS 2008 H-2A and H-2B rules modify previous limitations on H-2A and H-2B workers' periods of stay in the United States. The rules also establish new requirements under both visas. They prohibit payments by prospective H-2A or H-2B workers to employers, recruiters, or other employment service providers where the payments are a condition of obtaining H-2A or H-2B employment, and provide for the denial or revocation of petitions in the event of petitioner violations. Among the other new requirements applicable to both programs, the DHS rules limit participation in the H-2A and H-2B programs to nationals of designated countries. 

DOL's 2008 H-2B rule replaces the labor certification process with an attestation-based process, in which employers attest in their applications, under threat of penalties, that they have complied with program requirements. Among other changes to DOL's H-2B regulations, the new rule establishes a system of post-certification audits of H-2B employer applications. 

DOL's 2010 H-2A rule reverses some major changes to the H-2A program that were included in its 2008 rule. Under the new rule, prospective H-2A employers must go through the traditional labor certification process and are subject to the adverse effect wages rate, as calculated prior to the 2008 rule. In addition, the 2010 rule calls for the creation of a new electronic registry for H- 2A job opportunities, and retains a system of post-certification audits of H-2A employer applications that was included in the 2008 rule. 

Various bills have been introduced in recent years to make changes to the H-2A and H-2B programs and to establish new temporary worker visas. In the 111th Congress, AgJOBS bills (H.R. 2414, S. 1038) propose to reform the H-2A program and establish a legalization program for agricultural workers, and H-2B bills variously seek to reform the H-2B program (H.R. 4381, S. 2910) and to reenact, in different forms, an expired provision to exempt certain returning workers from the H-2B cap of 66,000 (H.R. 1136, H.R. 1934, S. 388). 

The current discussion of guest worker programs takes place against a backdrop of high levels of unauthorized migration to the United States, leading to various questions, such as whether new guest worker proposals would enable participants to obtain legal permanent resident (LPR) status.


Date of Report: March 16, 2010
Number of Pages: 47
Order Number: RL32044
Price: $29.95

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