E.g., 06/09/2023
E.g., 06/09/2023
Rethinking the U.S. Legal Immigration System: A Policy Road Map

The U.S. legal immigration system, built on a scaffolding first established in 1952 and last significantly updated by Congress in 1990, is profoundly misaligned with demographic and other realities—resulting in enormous consequences for the country and for its economy. This misalignment is the principal cause for illegal immigration. It is also responsible for the mounting backlog in legal immigration streams, with some in the green-card queue scheduled to wait 223 years for an employment-based visa.

This road map, part of MPI’s Rethinking U.S. Immigration Policy Initiative, sketches the broad contours of some of the most needed reforms in the legal immigration system. Given population aging and changing labor market demands, the need for reform is more urgent than ever.

The policy brief offers a quick tour of the new framework that MPI is advancing. The vision includes:

  • Meaningful and responsible reform of the U.S. immigration system that begins with addressing the challenge of the country’s unauthorized immigrant population, 60 percent of which has been in the United States a decade or more.
  • Restructuring the employment-based system to better reflect economic and demographic realities and the behavior of employers and workers with three streams: 1) seasonal/short-term workers; 2) direct admission of immigrant workers recognized as the best and brightest in their fields as permanent residents; and 3) a new “bridge” visa as the main route for admission for most foreign workers arriving on employment visas.
  • Retaining family-sponsored immigration as a major priority of the U.S. immigrant selection system, but with changes to some backlogged categories.
  • Reforming the humanitarian protection system, including U.S. asylum system reform to improve efficient and fair adjudication.
  • Injecting much-needed flexibility into immigration levels, with the creation of an independent expert body within government that makes recommendations on annual admissions based on careful, nonpartisan review of labor market, economic, demographic, and immigration trends.
Table of Contents 

1   Economic and Demographic Realities
A. An Aging Population
B. Changing Labor Market Demand and U.S. Workers’ Skills
C. Implications for Immigration
D. Dysfunction in the Current Selection System

2   A Fresh Look at Policy Challenges, Old and New
A. Addressing the Unauthorized Immigrant Population
B. Rethinking the Broader System

3   The Elements of a Restructured Employment-Based System
A. Seasonal and Short-Term Workers
B. Direct Admission as Permanent Residents
C. Bridge Visa
D. A Pilot Points System

4   Reforms to Other Legal Immigration Streams
A. Family-Based Immigration
B. Refugee Resettlement and the Asylum System
C. The Diversity Visa Program

5   Key Considerations for Building a Modernized Visa System

6   Bringing Flexibility into the Number of Immigrants Admitted Annually

7   Conclusion