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Legal Immigration Policies for Low-Skilled Foreign Workers
Policy Briefs
April 2013

Legal Immigration Policies for Low-Skilled Foreign Workers

The current U.S. legal immigration system includes few visas for low-skilled workers, and employers have relied heavily on an unauthorized workforce in many low-skilled occupations. This issue brief explains the questions that policymakers must grapple with when designing programs for admission of low-skill workers, for temporary as well as permanent entry. The brief focuses in part on the recent agreement by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO regarding admission of future low-skilled workers.

The brief highlights a number of major policy issues related to the requirements for employers, numerical limits, and employment standards. Specifically, the brief emphasizes some rather contentious issues related to inconsistent prevailing wage determinations; recruitment requirements for employers; numerical caps; portability; and violations of labor standards. In addition, the brief finds that one of the key drivers of illegal immigration is the absence of a meaningful year-round employment-based visa for low-skilled workers and notes that at present, the only permanent visa for low-skilled workers is capped at a mere 5,000 annually. Although the creation of a new visa program for low-skilled workers gives rise to a number of difficult questions related to eligibility, duration, and design, the brief finds that the recent agreement between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO puts new momentum behind the debate.

Table of Contents 
  1. Low-Skilled Workers: Limited Channels under Current System
  2. Current Policies and Flows
  3. Major Policy Issues for Low-Skilled Work Visas
  4. A New Future Flow: Visas for Long-Term or Permanent Employment
  5. Conclusion