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Thursday, January 31, 2013

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: January 17, 2013
Number of Pages: 484
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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Visa Waiver Program



Alison Siskin
Specialist in Immigration Policy

The visa waiver program (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. Concerns have been raised about the ability of terrorists to enter the United States under the VWP, because the VWP bypasses the first step by which foreign visitors are screened for admissibility to enter the United States. Nonetheless, the current economic climate has heightened interest in the VWP as a mechanism to promote tourism and commerce. In addition to increasing tourism, the inclusion of countries in the VWP may help foster positive relations between the United States and those countries, facilitate information sharing, and ease consular office workloads abroad. As of December 2012, 37 countries participate in the VWP. Taiwan, the most recent entrant, was designated a program country on October 2, 2012.

In FY2011, there were 18.3 million visitors who entered the United States under this program, constituting 40% 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, machinereadable 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.

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 contain 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 United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (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.

Under statute, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has the authority to waive the nonimmigrant refusal rate requirement, provided certain conditions are met. The waiver became available in October 2008; however, it was suspended on July 1, 2009, because DHS did not implement an air-exit system that incorporates biometric identifiers. The waiver will not be available until such a system is implemented, and it is unknown when and if a biometric exit system will be implemented. 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, Chile) that have expressed interest in being a part of the VWP who would need a waiver of the nonimmigrant refusal rate. Legislation was introduced in the 112
th Congress that would have reinstated the waiver authority and made other changes to the VWP, such as allowing DHS to use overstay rates to determine program eligibility. It is possible that the 113th Congress will consider similar legislation.


Date of Report: January 15, 2013
Number of Pages: 25
Order Number: RL32221
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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

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: January 16, 2013
Number of Pages: 484
Order Number: C12003
Price: $79.95


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Thursday, January 10, 2013

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 passed a revised version of the STEM Jobs Act of 2012 (H.R. 6429) on November 30, 2012.

Date of Report: December 17, 2012
Number of Pages: 34
Order Number: R42530
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Interior Immigration Enforcement: Programs Targeting Criminal Aliens



Marc R. Rosenblum
Specialist in Immigration Policy

William A. Kandel
Analyst in Immigration Policy


Congress has a long-standing interest in seeing that immigration enforcement agencies identify and deport criminal aliens. The expeditious removal of such aliens has been a statutory priority since 1986, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its predecessor agency have operated programs targeting criminal aliens for removal since 1988. These programs have grown substantially since FY2005.

Despite the interest in criminal aliens, inconsistencies in data quality, data collection, and definitions make it impossible to precisely enumerate the criminal alien population, defined in this report as all noncitizens ever convicted of a crime. CRS estimates the number of noncitizens incarcerated in federal and state prisons and local jails—a subset of all criminal aliens—at 173,000 in 2009 (the most recent year for which complete data are available), with state prisons and local jails each accounting for somewhat more incarcerations than federal prisons. The overall proportion of noncitizens in federal and state prisons and local jails corresponds closely to the proportion of noncitizens in the total U.S. population.

DHS operates four programs designed in whole or in part to target criminal aliens: the Criminal Alien Program (CAP), Secure Communities, the §287(g) program, and the National Fugitive Operations Program (NFOP). The CAP, Secure Communities, and certain §287(g) programs are jail enforcement programs that screen individuals for immigration-related violations as they are being booked into jail and while they are incarcerated; the NFOP and some §287(g) programs are task force programs that target at-large criminal aliens. This report describes how these programs work and identifies their common features and key differences among them.

While consensus exists on the overarching goal to identify and remove serious criminal aliens, these programs have generated controversy, particularly Secure Communities and the §287(g) program. On one hand, the Obama Administration and other supporters of jail enforcement programs see them as efficient and even-handed ways to identify criminal aliens. The Administration has taken steps to strengthen and expand Secure Communities and plans to implement the program in every law enforcement jurisdiction in the country by the end of 2013. On the other hand, some lawmakers and advocacy groups have raised concerns that Secure Communities and the §287(g) program have not been narrowly targeted at serious criminal offenders and that the programs may have adverse impacts on police-community relations, may result in racial profiling, and may result in the detention of people who have not been convicted of criminal offenses and/or may not be subject to removal.

Disagreements about the merits of jail enforcement programs overlap with a separate set of questions about the role of states and localities in immigration enforcement. These jurisdictional questions have focused in particular on Secure Communities, in part because the Obama Administration initially appeared to present it as a discretionary program but now takes the position that states and localities may not “opt out” of Secure Communities.

Legislative issues related to Secure Communities and other ICE programs that Congress may consider include clarifying the role of state and local law enforcement agencies in immigration enforcement, the Obama Administration’s exercise of prosecutorial discretion, mandating new data collection in response to concerns over racial profiling at the state and local levels, and clarifying the statutory authority for states and localities to detain unauthorized aliens.



Date of Report: December 20, 2012
Number of Pages: 52
Order Number: R42057
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