To Protect American Workers, Overhaul Visa System

Published on March 21st, 2014

By Joe Guzzardi
March 21, 2014

In its report based on Census Bureau and Current Population Survey statistics, a Center for Immigration Studies analysis found that, since 2000, legal and illegal immigrants have accounted for all of the U.S. labor market job gains.

Through 2012, according to the federal government’s data, more than 22.4 million working-age immigrants held jobs, up 5.3 million over the 2000 total. But, during the same period, employed native-born workers dropped 1.3 million from 114.8 million to 113.5 million.

Among foreign-born workers, 29 percent are employed in management, professional and related occupations; 26 percent in service; 18 percent in sales and office; 15 percent in production, transportation and material moving occupations; and 13 percent in natural resources, construction and maintenance – all jobs Americans would do. And although aliens aren’t legally authorized to work, the Pew Hispanic Center calculates that about 6 million are employed.

At the same time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 92 million Americans are no longer part of that labor force, a condition generally defined as a person who because of weak job prospects hasn’t looked for work during the past 30 days.

Summarizing, the U.S. has an ever-increasing number of employed immigrants and an ever-decreasing total of employed Americans. Economists point to record-high sustained immigration to explain the phenomena. For the last decade, annual legal immigration has averaged about one million. In addition, the U.S. issues about 750,000 guest worker visas each year. The U.S. immigrant population is estimated at nearly 40.4 million, a historic high for the nation and the world’s largest.

Rarely discussed, however, is the affect non-immigrant visa holders who apply for adjusted status have on the dismal U.S. employment market. Here’s how it happens. The U.S. issues more than 40 different types of non-immigrant visas to temporary workers, students, intra-company transfers, diplomats, physicians, academics and tourists. Starting in 2008 and ending 2012, the annual totals in millions have been 6.6, 5.8, 6.4, 7.5 and 8.9.

But existing immigration law allows people legally admitted on any of those 40 visas to apply for change of status from non-immigrant to permanent resident (green card and work authorized) while still in the U.S.

A successful petition can be family-based, marriage-based or employment-based. Appeals can also result in granting asylum or refugee status. In 2012, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services approved more than 500,000 adjusted status applications.

Many temporary visa holders never bother to adjust status. They overstay and may enter the labor pool surreptitiously to get jobs using either stolen identities or falsified social security numbers. Because the U.S. has no entry-exit system to determine whether persons who have been admitted depart according to their visa’s terms or instead remain in the country illegally, their total can only be estimated. Experts put the number at about 4 million, one-third of the total illegal immigration population.

To protect American workers, the U.S. should require that first, except for verifiable extreme humanitarian need, adjusted status applications must be submitted from abroad. Second, an entry-exit program should be implemented immediately. Inexplicably, even post-9/11 when several terrorists exploited the visa system, Congress has blocked various common sense proposals for biometric monitoring.

Millions of people come, countless fewer millions leave, and many eventually take any of dozens of paths to work authorization and eventual citizenship. The surprise isn’t that immigrants have displaced so many Americans, but that they haven’t dominated the labor market to a greater extent.


Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been syndicated since 1987. Contact him at [email protected].

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