Who Gets In?
By Bryan Caplan
I’ve studied immigration for years, but now that I’m prepping an Economics of Immigration class for the fall, I’ve been learning some new facts.
Today’s question: Who actually gets into the U.S. legally? Here’s what I found in the latest Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.
I’ve long known that family reunification is the heart of U.S. immigration policy, but I didn’t realize the extremity of the pattern. In 2018, 44% of visas went to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, and another 20% were for family-sponsored visas. Much more strikingly, only 13% of visas were for employment! I knew that the U.S. admits few refugees and asylees, but I wouldn’t have guessed that employment-based immigration is even rarer. And I wasn’t even aware of the Iraqi/Afghan and victim categories, all of which plausibly count as humanitarian as well, for a grand total of 19% humanitarian in 2018.
I know how nativist U.S. public opinion is; while the share of Americans who want more immigration is rising, over 70% still oppose liberalization. Still, I find it hard to believe that either liberals or conservatives would be pleased by the low level of employment-based immigration. Faced with these figures, liberals would probably draw the relatively reasonable conclusion that we should double or triple the number of employment-based visas. Conservatives, for their part, would probably want to “make more room” for employment-based immigrants by cutting family-based and especially humanitarian visas. Never mind the fact that the U.S. has nothing but room!