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MPI Report Proposes New System of Provisional Visas to Address U.S. Labor Market Future Flow Needs
Press Release
Friday, July 24, 2009

MPI Report Proposes New System of Provisional Visas to Address U.S. Labor Market Future Flow Needs

WASHINGTON — The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) today proposed creation of a new stream of visas to provide for the future flows of workers needed by the U.S. economy, stressing that comprehensive immigration reform legislation must include reform of the employment-based immigration system if it is to be effective.

In a new report, Aligning Temporary Immigration Visas with US Labor Market Needs: The Case for a New System of Provisional Visas, MPI recommends reform of a rigid, outdated employment-based visa system that is out of sync with the needs of employers, the U.S. economy, U.S. society and immigrants alike.

"One of the most glaring mistakes of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act was its failure to provide for the necessary flows of employment-based immigration needed by the U.S. economy, setting the stage for more illegal immigration and depriving the economy of necessary workers and innovation," said MPI Senior Fellow Doris Meissner, who co-authored the report with MPI President Demetrios Papademetriou, Senior Policy Analyst Marc Rosenblum and Associate Policy Analyst Madeleine Sumption.

The report recommends creation of a new stream of visas known as provisional visas, which would bridge temporary and permanent admissions to the United States for work purposes in a predictable and transparent way. With employment-based green cards capped at about 140,000 a year, employers sometimes have to wait up to six years to obtain a visa authorizing legal permanent residency for a foreign worker. So-called temporary visas have become the norm for meeting broad-gauged labor market needs and filling long-term jobs, but the system limits workers' labor mobility and inhibits immigrant integration and long-term investment in human capital.

Under a provisional visa, workers would be sponsored by an employer for a three-year visa and could gain visa portability after one year. Provisional visa holders who meet criteria demonstrating suitability for long-term residence would be eligible for a second three-year visa, and many could eventually adjust their status and become legal permanent residents.

"This provisional visa concept hits the sweet spot in balancing the two main goals of labor market immigration policy: It supports economic growth and competitiveness while protecting the wages and interests of U.S. workers; and it facilitates the social and economic integration of the foreign-born workers recruited to fill U.S. labor market needs," Rosenblum said.

Said Sumption: "Provisional visas would permit the employment-based visa system to be more closely aligned with the immigration realities of today's economy, and would allow the United States to sharpen its competitive edge in attracting talented foreign workers at a time when other countries increasingly are reshaping their immigration policies to go after the 'best and brightest'."

As policymakers in Washington prepare for a debate over comprehensive immigration reform, MPI has issued a series of reports with recommendations for key aspects of what would comprise an effective policy. Among them:

  • Creation of a Standing Commission on Labor Markets, Economic Competitiveness, and Immigration, a permanent, bipartisan body that would advise Congress and the executive branch on regular adjustments to immigration levels regarding employment-based immigration based on impartial analysis of the economic impacts of labor market immigration. See report here
  • Getting electronic employment verification right – a necessary ingredient to prevent future illegal immigration – through mandating electronic verification and testing new technologies for a next-generation E-Verify system. See report here
  • Strengthening the immigration agencies within the Department of Homeland Security – U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – through a range of administrative actions. See report here

MPI's newest report, on provisional visas, is available online here.



The Migration Policy Institute 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 the local, national and international levels.