October 1995, Volume 1, Number 4
Immigration Reforms in Congress
The Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration held
a hearing September 13 on legal immigration reform, and another on
September 28 on nonimmigrants. Meanwhile, the House Judiciary
Committee continued to mark up its version of comprehensive
immigration reform legislation, the 364 page Immigration in the
National Interest Act (HR 2202).
Although the Administration has not offered a bill, President
Clinton has announced that he would like to sign immigration reform
legislation in 1995. Sponsors are not confident, however, that
Congress can approve reform legislation by year end.
The legislation moving through Congress would make at least five
major changes. It would reduce immigration from about 800,000 per
year to about 535,000 by eliminating several preference categories,
such as the adult brothers and sisters of US citizens; reduce refugee
admissions from about 120,000 annually to 50,000; require family
sponsors of immigrants to assume more financial responsibility for
them; establish a national registry of Social Security and alien
numbers to help employers verify who is eligible to work in the US;
and tighten restrictions on the ways US employers recruits immigrants
to fill vacant jobs.
In 1994, 804,416 were immigrants admitted to the US. About 31
percent or 250,000 were spouses, children, and parents of US
citizens, who can enter as soon as their US citizen sponsors have
their paper work approved by the Immigration and Naturalization
Service the Department of State. Under proposed immigration reforms,
only the parents category, under which 56,000 foreigners entered,
would be changed.
Under other family preferences, 212,000 immigrant relatives were
admitted in 1994. Four of the five family preference immigrant
categories would be eliminated--those that permit unmarried adult
children of US citizens and legal residents to immigrate, married
children of US citizens, and brothers and sisters of US citizens.
If current proposals are approved, some 2.4 million foreigners
waiting in queues to enter the US on the basis of family ties would
find the family unification door to the US shut.
There are another 1.1 million spouses and children of legal
immigrant residents waiting in a queue to come to the US. To expedite
the unification of nuclear families, the Commission on Immigration
Reform and Congress proposed that the number of slots for such family
unification would be increased by up to 150,000 per year for at least
Of the 3.5 million persons waiting to immigrate, about 1 million
are Mexicans, and 500,000 are Filipinos, followed by India, China,
One effect of the proposed changes to US immigration law would be
to add close family slots that are typically used by Mexicans and
Latin Americans to enter the US, and reduce the number of extended
family unification slots often used by Asians to immigrate.
Asian groups have led the charge against the proposed elimination
of slots for adult children and brothers and sisters of US citizens
21 and older--1.3 million or 54 percent of the 2.4 million persons on
immigration waiting lists are reportedly from Asia, including
500,0000 from the Philippines (Asia has 60 percent of the world's
Unlike the House, which made few changes to the system through
which immigrants are admitted for economic/employment reasons, the
Senate proposal follows CIR recommendations and would reduce the
number of permanent immigrants admitted for economic/employment
reasons. It would require employers who want permanent immigrants to
fill vacant jobs to pay fees into a fund that trains US workers to
fill these jobs.
The CIR released its recommendations on economic/employment-based
immigration on September 12. Under the CIR's recommendations,
employers could bring in up to 100,000 economic/employment
immigrants, including family members, each year, down from the
current 140,000, but above the FY94 demand for permanent visas
granted on the basis of achievement and work.
Under the CIR's recommendations, instead of applying to DOL to
prove that the employer tried to find US workers and failed, a
process termed labor certification that costs the US government about
$60 million per year to administer, employers wanting foreign workers
would pay $7,000 to $10,000 per permanent immigrant into a private
fund that would train US workers to fill vacant jobs identified by
employer requests for immigrants.
Employers willing to pay these fees would be presumed to have
searched and failed to find US workers, and thus save the up to
$10,000 they currently pay lawyers to complete the labor
In FY94, about 123,000 permanent immigrants were admitted under
employment preferences. However, 30,000 of them were Chinese students
who were allowed to adjust their status, plus unskilled immigrants.
This means that only 93,000 persons were admitted under the skilled
preferences that would remain if CIR immigration reforms were adopted
-- well under the 100,000 annual quota proposed by the CIR. Of those
admitted in 1994, 55,000 or 60 percent were spouses and children of
the principal worker for whom a visa was sought.
The 38,000 "principal workers" admitted for employment reasons in
FY94 would have generated $380 million for the training fund had a
fee of $10,000 per worker been charged.
The major fight in the September's markup was whether to establish
a national registry that includes data on persons legally authorized
to work in the US. The registry stayed in the bill on a 17-15 vote,
but it would begin as a pilot program in five states, sunset on
October 1, 1999, and could be expanded nationally only by a vote of
On October 11, the markup resumed, and the Committee voted 20-14
along party lines to not to divide the immigration reform bill into
separate legal and illegal measures. By keeping reform of legal and
illegal together, experts predict that Congress is more likely to
approve the bill's reduction by 30 percent of the number of legal
immigrants admitted to the US to 330,000 family immigrants annually.
The number of economic/employment visas would be reduced by 5000 to
135,000 per year.
Steven Holmes, House Panel Keeps Intact Bill to Restrict
Immigration," New York Times, October 12, 1995; Steven Holmes,
"Congress Plans Stiff new Curbs on Immigration," New York Times,
September 25, 1995; Seth Mydans, "Narrowing the US Immigration Gate,"
New York Times, September 24, 1995