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MPI: As Is Case in U.S., Family Admissions Represent Biggest Immigration Stream in Canada & UK When All Family Ties Are Taken into Account
Press Release
Tuesday, April 10, 2018

MPI: As Is Case in U.S., Family Admissions Represent Biggest Immigration Stream in Canada & UK When All Family Ties Are Taken into Account

WASHINGTON – A number of countries have been revisiting issues related to family-based immigration. At the height of the 2015-2016 European migration crisis, Germany and Sweden introduced restrictions on the family reunification rights of some recently arrived asylum seekers. And in the United States, the Trump administration and some Republicans in Congress are questioning the continued primacy of family reunification in the U.S. immigration system.

Amid their push to cut legal immigration, President Trump and his allies are proposing eliminating some family-based categories and moving towards what they refer to as the “merit-based” system used in Canada. However, a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) issue brief finds that family admissions predominate in Canada and the United Kingdom when the dependent spouses and children of economic migrants are reclassified as family migrants.

While economic migrants make up the largest share of permanent residence grants in Canada and the United Kingdom, their dependents account for about half of economic admissions. Reclassifying these dependents as family migrants, MPI finds that family admissions comprise 57 percent of permanent residence grants in the United Kingdom, 66 percent in Canada and 81 percent in the United States. (See table below.)

“While analyses of family migration tend to focus narrowly on migrants recorded as entering through family-sponsored channels, this is only part of the picture,” said co-author Kate Hooper, an MPI International Program associate policy analyst. “Taking the dependents of migrants who enter a country through other visa categories into consideration reveals more fully the centrality of family migration in many countries.”

The issue brief, It’s Relative: A Crosscountry Comparison of Family-Migration Policies and Flows, draws upon national migration and statistical agency data from 2011-2016 to explore family migration trends and policies in Canada, the United Kingdom, United States and six other Organization for Economic Cooperation Development (OECD) countries that receive large numbers of family migrants (Australia, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden).

Among the brief’s top findings:

  • When adjusted for population size, Australia, Canada and the United States admit family migrants at similar rates. While the United States takes in family immigrants at roughly the same rate as Australia and Canada (2.1 admissions per 1,000 people annually, compared to 2.6 and 2.0 admissions, respectively), it admits far fewer economic migrants (0.5 admissions per 1,000 people, compared to 5.5 and 4.5 admissions for Australia and Canada, respectively). When dependent family members admitted through other immigration streams are considered as family migrants, this picture changes again; this reclassification shows Canada taking in nearly twice as many family migrants each year as the United States: 4.8 versus 2.6 family migrants per 1,000 people.
  • Most family migrants admitted are spouses (or partners) and children across all countries studied, but extended family admissions vary. Spouses and children make up two-thirds of permanent resident visas to Canada and the United States, and this figure is even higher for Australia and the United Kingdom (85 percent and 97 percent, respectively). In Sweden and the Netherlands, spouses and children comprise more than 90 percent of all first residence permits (permanent and temporary) issued for family reasons, and in Germany and Italy, they make up roughly 80 percent of such permits. Beyond the nuclear family, options to bring in other relatives vary. Australia, Canada and the United States allow the sponsoring of parents, but Canada also makes it possible to sponsor grandparents, the United States permits adult children and siblings, and Australia allows sponsoring a relative who can provide long-term care to the sponsor or other family member.

Major Migration Streams as a Share of All New Permanent Residents, Before and After Reclassifying Accompanying Family as Family Migrants, 2011–15

* U.S. figures here exclude several small visa categories for which the Department of Homeland Security’s Yearbook on Immigration Statistics does not provide totals due to the low numbers of recipients.
Notes: This table compares “original” permanent residency data, as reported by national migration and statistical authorities, with “adjusted” figures that reclassify family members recorded as dependents within other streams (economic, humanitarian and other) as part of the family category. These data are averaged for the 2011–15 period to reduce the prominence of year-to-year fluctuations.
Source: Kate Hooper and Brian Salant, It’s Relative: A Crosscountry Comparison of Family-Migration Policies and Flows.

Read the brief here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/crosscountry-comparison-family-migration.

Today, MPI also launched a new data tool allowing users to see how potential changes to U.S. legal immigration policy, such as eliminating the diversity visa program or individual family-sponsored preferences, would affect top sending countries.

Access the new U.S. data tool here: www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/data-hub/charts/modeling-potential-us-legal-immigration-cuts.

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at local, national and international levels.