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Friday, January 21, 2011

Visa Waiver Program


Alison Siskin
Specialist in Immigration Policy

Since the events of September 11, 2001, concerns have been raised about the ability of terrorists to enter the United States under the visa waiver program (VWP), because the VWP bypasses the first step by which foreign visitors are screened for admissibility to enter the United States. Nonetheless, the inclusion of countries in the VWP may help foster positive relations between the United States and those countries, promote tourism and commerce, facilitate information sharing, and ease consular office workloads abroad. The VWP allows nationals from certain countries to enter the United States as temporary visitors (nonimmigrants) for business or pleasure without first obtaining a visa from a U.S. consulate abroad. Temporary visitors for business or pleasure from non-VWP countries must obtain a visa from Department of State (DOS) officers at a consular post abroad before coming to the United States. As of January 2011, 36 countries participate in the VWP.

In FY2009, 16.2 million visitors entered the United States under this program, constituting 50.5% of all overseas visitors. To qualify for the VWP, statute specifies that a country must offer reciprocal privileges to U.S. citizens; have had a nonimmigrant refusal rate of less than 3% for the previous year or an average of no more than 2% over the past two fiscal years with neither year going above 2.5%; issue their nationals machine-readable passports that incorporate biometric identifiers; certify that it is developing a program to issue tamper-resident, machine-readable visa documents that incorporate biometric identifiers which are verifiable at the country’s port of entry; and not compromise the law enforcement or security interests of the United States by its inclusion in the program. Countries can be terminated from the VWP if an emergency occurs that threatens the United States’ security interests.

P.L. 110-53 added new requirements to participate in the VWP, and provided the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the authority to waive the nonimmigrant refusal rate requirement. The waiver became available in October 2008; however, it was suspended on July 1, 2009.

All aliens entering under the VWP must present machine-readable passports. In addition, passports issued between October 26, 2005, and October 25, 2006, must have a digitized photo on the data page, while passports issued after October 25, 2006, must contained electronic data chips (e-passports). Under DHS regulations, travelers who seek to enter the United States through the VWP are subject to the biometric requirements of the US-VISIT program. In addition, aliens entering under the VWP must get an approval from the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), a web-based system that checks the alien’s information against relevant law enforcement and security databases, before they can board a plane to the United States. ESTA became operational for all VWP countries on January 12, 2009.

In 2008, eight new countries were added to the VWP who needed the nonimmigrant refusal rate waiver to be part of the program. There are other countries (e.g., Poland, Romania, Taiwan) that have expressed interest in being a part of the VWP. The nonimmigrant refusal rate waiver authority was suspended on June 30, 2009, because DHS did not implement an air-exit system that incorporates biometric identifiers. It is unknown when a biometric exit system will be implemented.



Date of Report: January 4, 2011
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: RL32221
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

The U.S. Foreign-Born Population: Trends and Selected Characteristics

William A. Kandel
Analyst in Immigration Policy

This report offers context for consideration of immigration policy options by presenting data on key geographic, demographic, social, and economic characteristics of the foreign-born population residing in the United States. Interest in the U.S. foreign-born population stems in part from the changing demographic profile of the United States as well as the rapidity of such change, and how both of these trends correspond to U.S. immigration policy. Although the foreign born are relatively small in absolute terms—38 million people representing 12.5% of the total U.S. population of 304.1 million in 2008—they are growing far more rapidly than the native-born population. Between 2000 and 2008, the foreign born contributed 30% of the total U.S. population increase and almost all of the prime 25-54 working age group increase. Close to 30% of the foreign born arrived in the United States since 2000, and roughly 29% were residing illegally in the United States in 2009.

Geographic origins of the foreign born have shifted from Europe (74% in 1960) to Latin America and Asia (80% in 2008). In recent years, many foreign born have settled in new urban and rural destinations, often in response to employment opportunities in construction, manufacturing, and low-skilled services. Yet, as in previous decades, at least two-thirds of the foreign born remain concentrated in just six states: California, New York, Florida, Texas, Illinois, and New Jersey.

Several measures of marital status and household structure show little difference between the native born and foreign born. The foreign born have lower average educational attainment, but the proportion with at least a bachelor’s degree matches that of the native born.

In 2008, the foreign born accounted for 15.7% of all workers, with higher labor force participation rates among men and lower rates among women compared to native-born workers. With exceptions, native- and foreign-born workers generally resemble each other in their distribution across broad industrial and occupational sectors. Among specific occupations, however, glaring differences occur, with native-born workers dominating occupations such as construction inspectors and librarians, and foreign-born workers dominating occupations such as agricultural laborers and tailors.

Lower education levels and differences in industrial sector and occupational distributions explain in part why foreign-born workers have lower median incomes and higher poverty rates than native-born workers. Earnings differences are minimal for those with a four-year college degree. Among the foreign born, median incomes of naturalized citizens are 60% higher than those of noncitizens, reflecting higher education levels, older ages, and greater U.S. labor market experience. Poverty status is linked to the lack of citizenship, a difference that is magnified after including the “near-poor,” who earn between 100% and 200% of the poverty threshold.

Although foreign-born population growth and transformation often occur because of factors beyond the control of Congress—including political turmoil and natural disasters in neighboring countries and social and economic processes of globalization—the way that Congress crafts immigration law does influence the size and character of resulting immigration flows to the United States.



Date of Report: January 18, 2011
Number of Pages: 38
Order Number: R41592
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

U.S. Refugee Resettlement Assistance


Andorra Bruno
Specialist in Immigration Policy

In recent years, the United States has admitted an increasingly diverse group of refugees and other humanitarian cases with a diverse set of needs. There seems to be broad consensus that the U.S. refugee resettlement assistance system is not adequately meeting the needs of these new arrivals and is ripe for reform. The National Security Council is leading an interagency review of refugee resettlement, the forthcoming results of which may further energize reform efforts. To help inform possible future efforts to reform the refugee resettlement assistance system, this report discusses existing resettlement assistance programs, key challenges and issues in providing effective assistance, and policy options to reform the current system.

To assist newly arriving refugees, the Department of State (DOS) administers a program of initial resettlement known as the Reception and Placement Program. Under this program, public and private, nonprofit entities provide new refugees with initial resettlement services and referrals to other services, as needed.

A separate set of refugee resettlement assistance programs, administered by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families (HHS/ACF), provides transitional assistance to refugees and other designated groups. These groups include individuals granted asylum, Cuban and Haitian entrants, trafficking victims, Amerasians, and Iraqi and Afghan special immigrants. The ORR programs— which provide mainly cash assistance, medical assistance, and employment-related services—are intended to help the beneficiaries (who are referred to collectively as “refugees” in this report) achieve economic self-sufficiency as soon as possible after their arrival in the United States.

Many observers argue that the DOS and ORR programs and the refugee resettlement assistance system more broadly are in need of reform. A number of reports have identified perceived shortcomings in the existing system and have offered recommendations for change. Several of these reports have focused, in particular, on the recent experience of Iraqi refugees resettled in the United States.

Among the broad challenges facing the refugee resettlement assistance system are interagency coordination and information sharing, and funding. Critics also question the system’s selfsufficiency model, which requires refugees to secure employment as quickly as possible. Key issues include financial assistance to refugees, which is widely viewed as insufficient, and the “lottery effect,” whereby refugees resettled in different parts of the United States receive different levels of financial assistance and services. Growing out of these challenges and issues are a variety of options for reforming the existing system with respect to administration and planning and the ORR programs.



Date of Report: January 4, 2011
Number of Pages: 26
Order Number: R41570
Price: $29.95

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Immigration Policies and Issues on Health-Related Grounds for Exclusion

Ruth Ellen Wasem
Specialist in Immigration Policy

Under current law, foreign nationals not already legally residing in the United States who wish to come to the United States generally must obtain a visa and submit to an inspection to be admitted. They must first meet a set of criteria specified in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) that determine whether they are eligible for admission. Moreover, they must also not be deemed inadmissible according to specified grounds in the INA. One of the reasons why a foreign national might be deemed inadmissible is on health-related grounds. The diseases that trigger inadmissibility in the INA are those communicable diseases of public health significance as determined by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Currently there are seven diseases deemed communicable disease of public health significance: chancroid, gonorrhea, granuloma inguinale, infectious leprosy, lymphogranuloma venereum, active tuberculosis, and infectious syphilis. Other diseases incorporated by reference are cholera; diphtheria; infectious tuberculosis; plague; smallpox; yellow fever; viral hemorrhagic fevers (Lassa, Marburg, Ebola, Crimean-Congo, South American, and others not yet isolated or named); severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS); and “[i]nfluenza caused by novel or reemergent influenza viruses that are causing, or have the potential to cause, a pandemic.” The INA also renders inadmissible foreign nationals who are not vaccinated against vaccine-preventable diseases. Vaccinations are statutorily required for mumps, measles, rubella, polio, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, influenza type B and hepatitis B. Vaccinations against other diseases may also be required if recommended by the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in HHS take the lead in protection against communicable diseases among foreign nationals who come to the United States. The CDC are responsible for providing the technical instructions to civil surgeons and panel physicians who conduct medical examinations for immigration purposes. Foreign nationals who are applying for visas at U.S. consulates are tested by in-country physicians who have been designated by the State Department. The physicians enter into written agreements with the consular posts to perform the examinations according to HHS regulations and guidance. Foreign nationals in the United States who are adjusting to legal permanent resident (LPR) status are tested by civil surgeons designated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). CDC, in conjunction with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in DHS, operates 20 quarantine stations and has health officials on call for all ports of entry.

From an immigration standpoint, an outbreak of an infectious disease places substantial procedural and resource pressures on CBP, which is charged with screening admissions of all travelers at land, sea, and air ports of entry (POE). CBP Officers screened approximately 361.2 million individuals in FY2009 for admissions into the United States. CBP works in conjunction with the CDC to monitor travelers and attempt to contain any diseases that may be spread by travelers coming from abroad.

Congress has acted legislatively on the health-related grounds for exclusion several times in recent years. Congress also plays an important oversight role, particularly when concerns arise regarding contagious diseases or potential pandemics. In addition to the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, attention continues to focus on infectious tuberculosis (TB).



Date of Report: January 6, 2011
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: R40570
Price: $29.95

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Visa Security Policy: Roles of the Departments of State and Homeland Security


Ruth Ellen Wasem
Specialist in Immigration Policy

Foreign nationals (i.e., aliens) not already legally residing in the United States who wish to come to the United States generally must obtain a visa to be admitted, with certain exceptions noted in law. The Departments of State (DOS) and Homeland Security (DHS) each play key roles in administering the law and policies on the admission of aliens. Although the DOS’s Consular Affairs is responsible for issuing visas, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigrant Services (USCIS) in DHS approves immigrant petitions, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in DHS operates the Visa Security Program in selected embassies abroad, and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in DHS inspects all people who enter the United States. In addition, the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has a significant policy role through its adjudicatory decisions on specific immigration cases.

Although there was a discussion of assigning all visa issuance responsibilities to DHS when the department was being created, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-296) opted not to do so. Rather, P.L. 107-296 drew on compromise language stating that DHS issues regulations regarding visa issuances and assigns staff to consular posts abroad to advise, review, and conduct investigations, and that DOS’s Consular Affairs continues to issue visas.

The case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who allegedly attempted to ignite an explosive device on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on December 25, 2009, refocused attention on the responsibilities of the Departments of State and Homeland Security for the visa process. He was traveling on a multi-year, multiple-entry tourist visa issued to him in June 2008. State Department officials have acknowledged that Abdulmutallab’s father came into the Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, on November 19, 2009, to express his concerns about his son, and that those officials at the Embassy in Abuja sent a cable to the National Counterterrorism Center. State Department officials maintain they had insufficient information to revoke his visa at that time. In the aftermath of the Abdulmutallab case, policymakers explored what went wrong and whether statutory and procedural revisions were needed.

Some have expressed the view that DOS has too much control over visas, maintaining that the Homeland Security Act intended DHS to be the lead department and DOS to merely administer the visa process. Proponents of DOS playing the principal role in visa issuances assert that only consular officers in the field have the country-specific knowledge to make decisions about whether an alien is admissible and that staffing 250 diplomatic and consular posts around the world would stretch DHS beyond its capacity. Whether the visa security roles and procedures are adequately funded may arise as the budget issues are considered.



Date of Report: December 16, 2010
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: R41093
Price: $29.95

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Immigration of Foreign Workers: Labor Market Tests and Protections


Ruth Ellen Wasem
Specialist in Immigration Policy

Economic indicators confirm that the U.S. economy sunk into a recession in December 2007. Although some economic indicators suggest that growth has resumed, unemployment remains high and is projected to remain so for some time. Historically, international migration ebbs during economic crises; for example, immigration to the United States was at its lowest levels during the Great Depression. While preliminary statistical trends hint at a slowing of migration pressures, it remains unclear how the economic recession of the past two years has affected immigration. Addressing these contentious policy reforms against the backdrop of economic crisis sharpens the social and business cleavages and narrows the range of options.

Some employers maintain 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 increasing employment-based immigration may be dampened by the high levels of unemployment, proponents argue that the ability to hire foreign workers is an essential ingredient for economic growth.

Those opposing increases in foreign workers assert that such expansions—particularly during a period of high unemployment—would have a deleterious effect on salaries, compensation, and working conditions of U.S. workers. Others question whether the United States should continue to issue foreign worker visas (particularly temporary visas) during a period of high unemployment and suggest that a moratorium on such visas might be prudent.

The number of foreign workers entering the United States legally has notably increased over the past decade. The number of employment-based legal permanent residents (LPRs) grew from under 100,000 in FY1994 to over 250,000 in FY2005, and dipped to 126,874 in 2009. The number of visas issued to employment-based temporary nonimmigrants rose from just under 600,000 in FY1994 to approximately 1.3 million in FY2007. In FY2009, the number of visas issued to employment-based temporary nonimmigrants dropped slightly to 1.1 million.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) bars the admission of any alien who seeks to enter the U.S. to perform skilled or unskilled labor, unless it is determined that (1) there are not sufficient U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available; and (2) the employment of the alien will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed workers in the United States. The foreign labor certification program in the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is responsible for ensuring that foreign workers do not displace or adversely affect working conditions of U.S. workers.

The 111
th Congress has addressed one element of the labor market test for foreign workers issue in §1611 of P.L. 111-5, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which requires companies receiving Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funding to comply with the more rigorous labor market rules of H-1B dependent companies if they hire foreign workers on H-1B visas. Also, §524 of division D of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2010 (P.L. 111-117) authorized the Department of Labor to use its share of the H-1B, H-2B, and L Fraud Prevention and Detection fees to conduct wage and hour enforcement of industries more likely to employ any type of nonimmigrants (not just H-1B, H-2B or L visaholders). Finally, P.L. 111-230 (H.R. 6080) authorized additional fees on firms who have more than 50% of their employees on H-1B or L visas.


Date of Report: December 20, 2010
Number of Pages: 34
Order Number: RL33977
Price: $29.95

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