In fulfilling this mandate, the Commission has held public hearings and consultations in Los Angeles, Miami, El Paso, Chicago, Lowell, New York, Austin, San Juan, and Phoenix. During the site visits, the Commission visited service agencies, community groups, and others with interest in immigration. We met with university-based researchers in these areas in order to be better informed of the cutting-edge research available on the local effects of immigration.
The Commissioners also held expert consultations on the national-level labor market impacts of immigration, the demographic effects, and the fiscal impacts on federal, state, and local programs. In addition, we held public meetings on the various parts of our legal immigration system, with separate sessions with practitioners familiar with family-based immigration, employment-based immigration, and refugee admissions. We undertook systematic analysis of the available research on such topics as the economic and social characteristics of recent immigrants, the impact of immigration on federal, state, and local benefit programs, the economic adaptation of immigrants, and the demographic and environmental effects of immigration. The Commission also commissioned research that modeled likely future demand for immigrant admissions. This research continues in preparation for our final report to Congress in 1997, but our work to date provides useful perspectives for interim recommendations.
Foremost, the Commission concludes that a properly regulated system of legal immigration is in the national interest of the United States. Such a system enhances the benefits of immigration while protecting against potential harms.
Immigrants often create new businesses and other employment-generating activities and, in this manner, promote the renewal of city neighborhoods and commercial districts. Immigrants also can strengthen America's economic and political ties with other nations and, thereby, enhance our ability to compete in a global economy and provide leadership in international and humanitarian affairs. Properly regulated immigration further strengthens American scientific, literary, artistic, and other cultural resources. It promotes family values and ties that are important components of good schools and strong communities. At a time of troubling ethnic strife in many parts of the world, an effective American immigration policy can demonstrate to other countries that religious and ethnic diversity are compatible with national civic unity in a democratic and free society.
Legal immigration, however, has costs, as well as benefits. Immigrants with relatively low education and skills may compete for jobs and public services with the most vulnerable of Americans, particularly those who are unemployed or underemployed. Jobs generated by immigrant businesses do not always address this problem. Concentrated and/or rapid entry of immigrants into a locality may impose immediate net costs, particularly in education, where expenditures are required to meet the additional and special needs of newcomers. Concentration of new immigrants can exacerbate tensions among ethnic groups. Certain legal immigrant populations may impose other costs: refugees often have special needs for health and other services, making resettlement significantly more costly than overseas solutions to refugee problems; elderly new immigrants are more likely to draw upon public services than elderly native-born Americans or immigrants who came to the United States at a younger age.
The Commission supports the basic framework of current immigration policy-family unification, employment-based immigration, and refugee admissions. We considered alternative frameworks, particularly a point system, but rejected these approaches. We believe that a system that relies on formulas and bureaucratic procedures for determining which immigrants meet the formula is not as effective in protecting the national interest as one that relies on the judgment of American families and employers within a framework that protects U.S. workers from unfair competition.
At the same time, the Commission is convinced that our current immigration system must undergo major reform to ensure that admissions continue to serve our national interests. Hence, the Commission recommends a significant redefinition of priorities and a reallocation of existing admission numbers to fulfill more effectively the objectives of our immigration system.
In developing our recommendations, the Commission was guided by the following principles:
1) Clear goals and priorities must define our immigration policy;
2) Effective policy means enforcement of immigration limits;
3) Regular periodic review is needed to ensure flexibility to adjust to changing circumstances in the United States;
4) Immigration policy should be comprehensible and its implementation efficient;
5) Sponsors are responsible for ensuring that immigrants do not become burdens on the American taxpayer;
6) Immigration policy must protect U.S. workers against unfair competition from foreign workers, with an appropriately higher level of protection to the most vulnerable in our society;
7) Both temporary and permanent admissions categories must be seen as integral parts of a cohesive immigration policy;
8) A sound immigration policy supports Americanization, by which we mean the sharing of such American values as the belief in liberty, democracy, and equal opportunity;
9) Fundamental immigration reform, as proposed by the Commission, requires a period of transition to get from the present system to the new one.
Following these principles:
The Commission recommends a tripartite immigration policy that permits the entry of nuclear family members, professional and skilled workers, and refugees, with additional steps to address the continued aftereffects of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act that provided legal status to formerly illegal aliens. We propose a core immigration admissions level of 550,000 per year, to be divided as follows:
Nuclear family immigration 400,000 Skill-based immigration 100,000 Refugees 50,000
The Commission further recommends that Congress authorize 150,000 visas annually for the admission of the spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents who have been awaiting entry until such time that the backlog is eliminated.
The Commission recommends that admission levels be authorized by Congress for a specified time period (e.g., three to five years) in order to ensure regular periodic review and, if needed, change by Congress.
More specifically, the Commission recommends changes in the components of U.S. immigration policy, including family-based immigration, skills-based immigration, and refugee resettlement. The Commission also addresses issues related to Americanization of new immigrants, with a particular focus on naturalization.
Immigration supports the national interest by promoting strong and intact nuclear families-that is, the basic social unit consisting of parents and their dependent children living in one household. Immigration contributes to this national interest by permitting the entry of close family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who otherwise may be separated for years. Immigration policy also can contribute to the strength of U.S. families by ensuring that immigrants receive any needed financial support from their own relatives and, thus, impose no financial burdens upon the taxpaying public.
The Commission recommends:
A prioritization of family relationships to determine who will be admitted through family-based immigration, with admission numbers going to those who are of the highest priority. Only to the extent that visas are available after the demand in higher priorities is met should visas be made available to lower priority categories. Following this reasoning, the Commission makes further recommendations.
The Commission further recommends sufficient additional numbers, on an interim basis, to eliminate the backlog in the category for admission of spouses and minor children of LPRs. We believe that this backlog, which results primarily from the Immigration Reform and Control Act, can be cleared without creating another waiting list. By the end of this fiscal year, 824,000 spouses and minor children of aliens legalized under IRCA will be waiting for visas. The number of new applications has fallen to only a handful for this group. However, since the filing of applications by the legalization beneficiaries, a backlog of 279,000 (or about 80,000 per year) spouses and minor children of other LPRs has developed. Under our current system, it would take more than a decade to clear the backlog, even with substantial naturalization. In the meantime, when an LPR sponsors a spouse and/or minor child, that individual goes to the end of the waiting list of 1.1 million.
Priority for clearance of the backlog should go first to the spouses and minor children of LPRs who themselves entered lawfully under the regular immigration preferences. Only afterwards should expedited admission be offered to the spouses and minor children of LPRs who entered under one of the legalization provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act.
The Commission recommends this separate treatment of the family members of those who became permanent residents through regular immigration and those who legalized under the IRCA because:
The addition of 150,000 visas will permit the elimination of the regular LPR beneficiary backlog within three years and the legalization beneficiary backlog in five to eight years. Thereafter, the entry of all spouses and minor children of LPRs should be possible within a year of application under the proposed 400,000 admissions ceiling on family-based immigration.
The Commission recommends elimination of other family-based admission categories, including:
Adult, unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens;
Adult, married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens;
Adult unmarried sons and daughters of legal permanent residents, and;
Siblings of U.S. citizens.
The Commission acknowledges that many individuals in these categories have contributed to U.S. society. Nevertheless, it is necessary at this time to emphasize the reunification of nuclear families. The elimination of these categories should take place one year after the date that legislation is enacted to accomplish this purpose. In this way, the plans of U.S. families that are on the verge of reunifying with their foreign siblings and adult children will not be unfairly disrupted. The Commission recommends elimination of these categories for several reasons.
For example, if 400,000 visas were allocated for family-sponsored immigrant in FY 1997, and during that year only 390,000 visas were issued because 10,000 immigrants were delayed beyond the end of the fiscal year, the remaining 10,000 visas could be issued to the delayed or other eligible aliens during the next fiscal year but would count toward the original year. Under the proposed amendment, the Department of State could charge to FY 1997 all visas allocated in that year even though the visas themselves might not be issued in FY 1997. As the recommendation affects only aliens already entitled to a visa, annual number limitations would not be exceeded.
The Commission further recommends that the INA be amended to address better the aging-out problem of certain aliens. One unfortunate side effect of waiting lists is the aging-out of aliens while awaiting their already approved petition. This issue, which arises particularly in the case of the minor children of legal permanent residents, will become even more of a problem with the elimination of admission opportunities for adult children. For example, the minor child of a legalized alien may have been granted Family Unity status with the understanding that eventually a visa would be available. Under current law, a child who has aged-out would rarely be deported but is no longer eligible for permanent residence as a minor child. A provision stating that a person entitled to status at the time a petition is approved shall continue to be entitled to that status, regardless of his or her age, would allow such applicants to retain their eligibility for immigrant visas.
Immigration can support the national interest by bringing to the U.S. individuals whose skills would benefit our society. It also can help U.S. businesses compete in the global economy. This national interest in the competitiveness of business must be balanced by an equally compelling national interest in developing a U.S. workforce that has the skills necessary to compete in the global economy. Immigration policy can contribute to this national interest by:
The Commission recommends that the preferences for the admission of skill-based immigrants be reorganized to establish two categories: those subject to a labor market test, which we would expect to be the norm; and those who, for significant and specific policy reasons, should be exempt from such a labor market test. Labor market-testing requires a demonstration that a business has a bona fide need for the skills of a foreign worker and cannot find a qualified U.S. worker or one who could be readily trained for the intended job.
Exempt workers should include those individuals whose entry will generate economic growth and who hold no potential for undermining the employment prospects and remuneration of U.S. workers. The following individuals should be exempt:
Labor market-tested foreign workers permitted to immigrate to the United States under these categories should include only those who have attained a baccalaureate or higher academic degree or those who are needed to fill jobs that require a high level of specific skills above the entry or journeyman level. Categories that would require a test of the domestic labor market include:
The Commission recommends the elimination of the admission of unskilled workers. Unless there is another compelling interest, such as in the entry of nuclear families and refugees, it is not in the national interest to admit unskilled workers, especially when the U.S. economy is showing difficulty in absorbing disadvantaged workers and efforts towards welfare reform indicate that many unskilled Americans will be entering the labor force.
The Commission is not satisfied with current labor certification procedures because they are neither timely enough to meet the needs of employers with a bona fide interest in hiring a foreign worker nor effective in protecting the interests of U.S. workers. We seek to replace a failed and expensive regulatory system with one that is market-driven. (The cost to the federal government was about $70 million in 1992.)
The Commission recommends replacing the labor certification procedure with the following more timely and effective labor market test:
n To demonstrate the bona fide need for a foreign worker and to increase competitiveness of U.S. workers, an employer should be required to pay a substantial fee, that is, make a substantial financial investment into a certified private sector initiative dedicated to increasing the competitiveness of U.S. workers, for example through education and training. Employers seeking to hire foreign workers already incur substantial financial costs and face lengthy processing delays. Under the Commission's proposal, the fee would go towards developing a well-trained U.S. workforce rather than supporting costly bureaucratic processes. To ensure that the employer, and not the foreign worker, pays the fee, penalties should be imposed upon violators.
To provide greater flexibility and allow for market adjustments, the Commission recommends that skill-based visas not used in a fiscal year be carried over to the next year's skill-based numbers. In this way, skill-based visas unused during a downturn in the economy would be readily available if business improves and there is greater need for skilled foreign workers.
The Commission strongly affirms that the United States should continue its commitment to resettle refugees as one of several elements of humanitarian protection for the persecuted. Refugee admissions fulfill a humanitarian commitment to provide protection and assistance to those who otherwise would be persecuted or endangered. The Commission recommends that, on an interim basis:
Allocating a set number of refugee admissions, with provisions to exceed this number in case of an emergency or other changed circumstances, ensures a continued U.S. commitment to resettlement, particularly following the expected closure of the current refugee programs in Southeast Asia and, possibly, the former Soviet Union. These two programs account for almost 80 percent of current resettlement (about 87,000 out of 112,000 admissions in FY 1994).
Reform of the current consultation process is needed to ensure Congressional oversight of decisions made to exceed the 50,000 limit. Current consultations are often pro forma and occur very late in the planning process. As discussed below, the Commission will provide recommendations on mechanisms for decisionmaking on numbers in a forthcoming report.
The U.S. should take leadership in generating international responses to refugee crises, with particular focus on international burdensharing and regional solutions. Future policies also must take into account the relative weight to be given resettlement versus the other avenues open to the United States to help protect and assist refugees worldwide, including support for repatriation of refugees to their homelands when conditions permit.
The Commission recommends a thorough assessment of the criteria used to admit refugees for resettlement and the procedures for their admission. The contexts for making future policy regarding refugee resettlement are in flux. The refugee resettlement program must be revamped to meet the needs of a post-Cold War world, in which extreme nationalism and ethnic conflicts continue to produce massive population displacements while resolution of other conflicts is permitting large-scale voluntary repatriation. Resettlement criteria should take into account the protection of refugees who otherwise would be endangered in a country of origin or asylum and who would have no other alternatives.
The Commission is reviewing a variety of issues related to refugee resettlement, including: the priority system; in-country refugee processing; country-specific legislation; procedural issues; Congressional and Executive branch roles, including the consultation process; the role of international organizations; parole authority; and domestic assistance, including the role of the state and local organizations (e.g., nongovernmental organizations and voluntary agencies).
The Commission also is engaged in a thorough review of issues related to immigration emergencies. Specific recommendations on this subject-which may include modification of the above interim recommendations on refugee resettlement-will be included in a Commission report planned for the end of 1995.
The Commission believes that both permanent and temporary (nonimmigrant) admissions must be considered as part of an integrated immigration system. Although we are deferring specific recommendations on most nonimmigrant issues until we have completed a comprehensive review, we do note two areas of particular interest.
Temporary Workers and Foreign Students. The Commission intends to examine in depth the nonimmigrant temporary worker and foreign student systems and their relationships to permanent immigration. In particular, we will be looking at ways to simplify and achieve greater coordination in these systems and to make recommendations as a result of this study. A high percentage of applicants for permanent skill-based admission are already in this country on temporary work or student visas. Businesses that intend to petition for permanent visas for new hires frequently obtain temporary visas first because of long delays in processing. In addition, a significant number of individuals admitted for temporary study or work seek permanent jobs during their stay. As noted above, these categories of temporary admission must be seen as integral parts of a coherent legal immigration policy. The Commission will address these specific issues in a later report.
Agriculture Guestworker Program. The Commission believes that an agriculture guestworker program, sometimes referred to as a revisiting of the "bracero agreement," is not in the national interest and unanimously and strongly agrees that such a program would be a grievous mistake.
First, the Commission is highly skeptical of the need for an agricultural guestworker program at this time or in the near future. Proponents of such a program have failed to demonstrate that a labor shortage is about to occur or that there are no means other than a guestworker program available to agricultural producers to obtain sufficient employees in their industry.
Guestworker programs effectively expand rural poverty. Moreover, guestworker programs are predicated on limitations on the freedom of those who are invited to enter and work. Experience has shown that such limitations are incompatible with the values of democratic societies. For that very reason, "temporary" guestworkers tend to become permanent residents, de facto or even de jure. The ongoing inconsistency between the stated intent of a guestworker program and the actual consequences cannot be ignored by policymakers who seek credibility in a reformed system.
The United States is one of the most successful multiethnic nations in history. It has united immigrants and their descendants from all over the world around a commitment to democratic ideals and constitutional principles. Those ideals and principles have been embraced by persons from an extraordinary variety of religious and ethnic backgrounds, partly because they permit and protect religious and cultural diversity within a framework of national political unity.
Cultural and religious diversity does not pose a threat to the national interest as long as public policies ensure civic unity. Such policies should help newcomers learn to speak, read, and write English effectively. They should strengthen civic education in the teaching of American history for all Americans. They should lead to the vigorous enforcement of laws against hate crimes and of laws to deter and to punish discrimination. Of course, such policies should encourage the naturalization of immigrants as the path to full civic participation.
At the same time, immigration to the United States should be understood as a privilege, not a right. Immigration carries with it obligations to embrace the common core of the American civic culture, to seek to become able to communicate-to the extent possible-in English with other citizens and residents, and to adapt to fundamental constitutional principles and democratic institutions.
In its further deliberations, the Commission will consider other public policies that are believed by some to encourage ethnocentrism in the name of multiculturalism or to promote political separatism in the name of civil rights. It will review whether bilingual education and affirmative action as applied to immigrants and their children promote, rather than detract from, civic unity. Now that immigrants come from more than 160 nations and many more ethnic groups, it is extremely important that public policies facilitate, not inhibit, the Americanization of newcomers.
Naturalization is the most visible manifestation of civic incorporation. At present, there is greater interest in naturalization than there is a capacity to act upon this interest. Large backlogs must be overcome so that the nation can benefit from the growing commitment of immigrants to become American citizens.
The Commission strongly recommends that INS adopt and implement as a strategic goal the reduction of processing time and backlogs for naturalization while maintaining rigorous standards in processing applications. The Commission also urges Congress to appropriate sufficient resources to support the implementation of this strategic goal. Applicants for naturalization pay a fee designed to cover the costs of the application process. The fees go into an account dedicated to use for examinations. The Commission believes that naturalization applicants have the right to receive the timely service that their fee represents. Naturalization fees should not subsidize other activities. Nor should an efficient naturalization procedure require a reallocation of resources from other priority functions. If the current fee is not adequate to cover the full costs of timely naturalization, it should be increased appropriately.
Further, the Commission urges INS to:
The Commission urges both the public and private sectors to assist legal immigrants in their preparation for naturalization. The Commission urges private industry, churches, community groups, and individual volunteers to redouble their efforts to provide English language instruction and civics education to immigrants. The current increased interest in naturalization presents an opportunity to use instruction in English, U.S. history, and civics to help immigrants participate more fully in the life of the community. Private sector initiatives would fill current gaps in such services. These programs also would benefit the providers, particularly businesses, who would gain from a workforce better able to communicate in English.
The Commission supports targeted outreach programs aimed at informing eligible immigrants about the requirements for naturalization. Outreach programs are critical to civic incorporation. They encourage immigrants to want to become citizens and help ensure awareness of opportunity and equitable access to information about naturalization.