U.S. Employment-Based Admissions: Permanent and Temporary
This policy brief examines the United States’ complex employment-based immigration system, which admits foreign workers through five permanent immigration categories and dozens of nonimmigrant visa categories for temporary workers. It evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the current demand-driven system and offers recommendations for improvement based on this analysis.
The report finds that the current employer/employee-driven system of employment-based admission allows employers—arguably the best judges of the economic contributions an individual can make—to drive the selection of foreign workers for permanent admission. The various temporary visa categories can also appeal to a wide range of employers and their specific needs. However, the system appears to fall short in responding to changing market conditions due to ceilings on both permanent and temporary admission categories. In addition, administrative and processing delays create lengthy wait times that exceed most companies’ hiring cycles. These inefficiencies, along with the lack of effective sanctions against actors who fail to comply with the rules, leave employers and workers with very few incentives to use legal foreign worker programs. Finally, the author suggests that the existing systems neither adequately protect worker rights nor reflect the realities of an increasingly mobile transnational world.
The report concludes with a set of principles for reforming the employment-based immigration system, recommending, among others, the following policy changes: replacing statutory admission ceilings with market mechanisms that regulate flows or yearly admission levels set by a commission; rethinking certain temporary visa categories as transitional programs and providing for timely adjustment from temporary to permanent status; enhancing worker protection by allowing mobility; and reducing fraud in the employment verification system through mandatory employer enrollment and biometric identifiers.