Immigration reform dilemma: Cut family visas to woo computer engineers?
Congress is closing in on immigration reforms that favor more immigrants with math and science backgrounds, but lawmakers are divided over whether to favor job skills over family ties.
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The thornier questions surround how to handle family-based visa applications for parents and siblings. As lawmakers seek to boost green cards for skills-based migrants, some are looking there as a potential offset.Skip to next paragraph
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Currently, skilled migrants make up 7 percent of America's total green card stream; in countries such as Canada and Australia, they make up more than half of all new nationals.
“When you talk about legal immigration reform, you should focus on that,” Representative Goodlatte said in a recent interview with the Monitor.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) wrote in his recent book “Immigration Wars,” that “if we want to increase the number of work-based immigrants without substantially increasing the overall number of immigrants, we must reduce family-based immigration.”
Mr. Bush’s proposal would allow for spouses and minor children of US citizens and lawful permanent residents to be guaranteed green cards while grandfathering in relatives who have already applied for family reunification at the time the new policy is implemented. But his proposal would also cut green cards for parents or siblings of American immigrants, both of which currently receive immigration preference.
Congressional Republicans including Goodlatte and Rep. Raul Labrador (R) of Idaho, a former immigration lawyer, have signaled their interest in ending the sibling preference but not the one for parents.
But the issue is a potential political minefield.
Representative Labrador was asked at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week whether he was in favor of shifting America’s immigration system toward one that fundamentally emphasizes employment interests. He said "no."
“I don’t think we need to de-emphasize the family reunification [categories] like children and spouses,” said Labrador, a key negotiator in a bipartisan House group working on an immigration reform proposal, “but I do think we need to emphasize our needs in the market.”
Liberal-leaning activists jealously guard family immigration categories as an affirmation of America’s fulfillment of the pledge emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty (“Bring us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free...”) and as a statement that immigrants without PhDs add value to American society, to.
“We think that family [immigration] compliments business and makes America more attractive to people who want to come here through our employment-based system,” says Erin Oshiro, a senior attorney at the Asian American Justice Center. “We shouldn’t be pitting one against the other.”
Adds Kevin Appleby, director of the office of migration at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops: “Immigrant families stay together and support each other. They may not have PhDs all the time... [but] keeping families together keeps society strong. If we totally switch to a business-based system, we may have a lot of smart people running around, but we won’t have the communities we have now.”
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops urges that any changes to some family-based immigration categories be reallocated to other forms of family-based immigration to reduce backlogs that can stretch for years.
“We’re not saying that we’re against business visas,” says Mr. Appleby,. “Our question is: Why does it have to come at the expense of the family system? We think the family system is broken and they can fix it, make it more expeditious – it does need to function more properly. We think all the categories should be preserved.”
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