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Friday, November 30, 2012

Aliens’ Rights, Benefits, and Responsibilities: A Compendium



United States is an issue not only in the recurring debate over immigration reform, but also in areas that pertain to the general public, such as welfare, public health and safety, education, labor, and military service. According to the 2011 American Community Survey the number of foreign-born inhabitants is estimated at 40,377,860 million. These numbers have increased slightly over the last couple of years.

 The ability of the alien population, particularly unauthorized aliens, to engage in activities and obtain public benefits has been a source of significant controversy at the federal, state, and local levels. Over the past decades, the benefits and privileges accorded to aliens in the United States have fluctuated. At least until recently, the trend at the federal level has been to limit the benefits accorded to non-citizens. In one example of this trend to limit benefits, pursuant to the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA, P.L. 104-193), noncitizens were made ineligible for most federal forms of assistance. State and local practice has not been uniform, with some states and localities limiting and others expanding the privileges accorded to aliens on matters such as welfare eligibility, access to higher education, and eligibility for a driver’s license. Whether these trends will continue or reverse remains unclear.


Date of Report: September 27, 2012
Number of Pages: 210
Order Number: C-12007
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Immigration of Foreign Nationals with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Degrees



Ruth Ellen Wasem
Specialist in Immigration Policy

Although the United States remains the leading host country for international students in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields, the global competition for talent has intensified. A record number of STEM graduates—both U.S. residents and foreign nationals—are entering the U.S. labor market, and there is a renewed focus on creating additional immigration pathways for foreign professional workers in STEM fields. Current law sets an annual worldwide level of 140,000 employment-based admissions, which includes the spouses and children in addition to the principal (i.e., qualifying) aliens. “STEM visa” is shorthand for an expedited immigration avenue that enables foreign nationals with graduate degrees in STEM fields to adjust to legal permanent resident (LPR) status without waiting in the queue of numerically limited LPR visas. The fundamental policy question is should the United States create additional pathways for STEM graduates to remain in the United States permanently?

The number of full-time graduate students in science, engineering, and health fields who were foreign students (largely on F-1 nonimmigrant visas) grew from 91,150 in 1990 to 148,923 in 2009, with most of the increase occurring after 1999. Despite the rise in foreign student enrollment, the percentage of STEM graduate students with temporary visas in 2009 (32.7%) was comparable to 1990 (31.1%). Graduate enrollments in engineering fields have exhibited the most growth of the STEM fields in recent years. About 40,000 graduate degrees were awarded to foreign STEM students in 2009, with 10,000 of those going to Ph.D. recipients.

After completing their studies, foreign students on F-1 visas are permitted to participate in employment known as Optional Practical Training (OPT), which is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. Generally, a foreign student may work up to 12 months in OPT status. In 2008, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) expanded the OPT work period to 29 months for F-1 students in STEM fields.

Many F-1 visa holders (especially those who are engaged in OPT) often change their immigration status to become professional specialty workers (H-1B). Most H-1B beneficiaries are typically admitted to work in STEM occupations. In FY2010, the most recent year for which detailed data on H-1B beneficiaries (i.e., workers renewing their visas as well as newly arriving workers) are available, almost 91,000 H-1B workers were employed in computer-related occupations, and they made up 47% of all H-1B beneficiaries that year.

The H-1B visa and the OPT often provide the link for foreign students to become employmentbased LPRs. In total, foreign nationals reporting STEM occupations made up 44% of all of the 676,642 LPRs who were employment-based principal immigrants during the decade of FY2000- FY2009. Of all of the LPRs reporting STEM occupations (297,668) over this decade, 52% entered as professional and skilled workers. STEM graduates seeking LPR status are likely to wait in line to obtain LPR status. Those immigrating as professional and skilled workers face wait times of many years, but those who meet the criteria of the extraordinary ability or advanced degrees preference categories have a much shorter wait.

STEM visas have gained interest in the 112
th Congress, and various bills with STEM visa provisions (H.R. 399, H.R. 2161, H.R. 3146, H.R. 5893, H.R. 6412, S. 1965, S. 1986, S. 3185, S. 3192, and S. 3217) have been introduced. The House Committee on the Judiciary held two hearings on STEM and other high-skilled immigration in 2011. These issues also arose during a 2011 Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearing on the economic rationale for immigration reform. On September 20, 2012, the STEM Jobs Act of 2012 (H.R. 6429) failed to receive the necessary two-thirds vote to pass under suspension of the rules. Most recently, the House Rules Committee has posted a revised version of the STEM Jobs Act of 2012 (H.R. 6429) on its website, indicating that it may come to the floor the week of November 26, 2012.


Date of Report: November 26, 2012
Number of Pages: 34
Order Number: R42530
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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Immigration and Border Security: A Compendium



There is a broad-based consensus that the U.S. immigration system is broken. This consensus erodes, however, as soon as the options to reform the U.S. immigration system are debated. Substantial efforts to comprehensively reform immigration law failed in the 109th and 110th Congresses. Whether and how Congress will address immigration reform in the midst of historically high levels of unemployment and budgetary constrictions is difficult to project.

The number of foreign-born people residing in the United States is at the highest level in U.S. history and has reached a proportion of the U.S. population—12.5%—not seen since the early 20th century. Of the 38 million foreign-born residents in the United States, approximately 16.4 million are naturalized citizens. The remaining 21.6 million foreign born residents are noncitizens. According to the latest estimates by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), about 10.8 million of the 21.6 million noncitizens were unauthorized aliens living in the United States in January 2010, down from a peak of 11.8 million in January 2007. Some observers and policy experts maintain that the presence of millions of unauthorized residents is evidence of inadequacies in the legal immigration system as well as failures of immigration control policies and practices.

This Compendium contains reports focusing on immigration and border security laws and policy including border control and visa security; legal immigration; documentation and verification; interior immigration enforcement; integration, status, and benefits; and refugees and other humanitarian populations. It delineates the debate in the 112th Congress for a range of issues, including border security, criminal aliens, worksite enforcement, employment eligibility verification, permanent admissions, temporary workers, legalization, noncitizen eligibility for federal benefits, birthright citizenship, and the role of state and local law enforcement in enforcing immigration laws. Current circumstances may sharpen the social and business cleavages as well as narrow the range of options. Nonetheless, selected immigration issues are likely to be a major concern for the 113th Congress, even if legislative action on such contentious issues appears daunting.

Date of Report: September 17, 2012
Number of Pages: 362
Order Number: C-12003
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