Legal Immigrants: Waiting Forever

by Don Boudreaux on May 23, 2006

in Immigration

Stuart Anderson of the National Foundation for American Policy just published this important study co-authored with David Miller.  Its title speaks volumes: "Legal Immigrants: Waiting Forever."  Here’s the introduction to the Executive Summary:

Why don’t people wait to immigrate legally to the United States?  The answer is that many people do come here legally but processing delays and the family and employment-based immigration quotas legislated by Congress result in significant wait times — and much frustration — for potential immigrants and U.S. employers.

This detailed review of immigration statistics from the U.S. Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reveals that those who "play by the rules" are likely to wait many years to become a lawful permanent resident, whether they are sponsored by an employer or a family member.  Moreover, those seeking to become citizens must also endure long processing delays in the quest for naturalization.

What kind of rules result in U.S. citizens having to wait, on average, between 11 and 12 years before their siblings can immigrate to America?  (This wait time is 22 years for citizens with siblings seeking to immigrate from the Philippines.)  What kind of rules result in U.S. citizens having to suffer a wait time of, on average, six years before their unmarried adult children can immigrate to America?  (For U.S. citizens with such children in Mexico the wait time is 13 years!)

Talking about "illegal" immigrants "cutting in line" and "not waiting their turn" and "not playing by the rules" makes it seem as if those who come to America without Uncle Sam’s formal stamp of approval are selfish, irresponsible, anti-social, impatient, unfair cheats.  But rule-breakers hurt society only when the rules they break are ones that help society when these rules are followed.  It’s not at all clear to me that the existing rules that limit immigration are helpful; they are, indeed, much more likely to be simply a species of economic protectionism, buoyed by ugly nativism — rules that create and protect rents — rules that are anti-social in the deepest sense. 

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments

comments

32 comments    Share Share    Print    Email

{ 16 comments }

John Dewey May 23, 2006 at 10:21 am

Some of the loudest immigration foes are blatant hypocrites. Rep. Tom Tancredo's office continued to rail throughout 2005 against illegal immigrants who "are cutting in line in front of people trying to do it the legal way.” In the very next breath, they introduced an immigration "reform" bill that would:

- eliminate much of the existing chain migration of family members;
- reduce the annual quota for employment based immigrants to 5200 (100 weekly);
- eliminate the visa lottery that currently allows 50,000 to immigrate each year; and
- cap at 50,000 per year the refugees and asylees who enter.

Why hasn't the mainstream media revealed such hypocrisy to the American public?

Mr. Econotarian May 23, 2006 at 10:40 am

How can someone from Mexico who has no family in the U.S. immigrate to the U.S. at all?

For that matter, the following countries are excluded from the "Green Card Lottery":

Canada, China (mainland-born only), Colombia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, South Korea, United Kingdom and Vietnam.

Ugly Nativist May 23, 2006 at 12:17 pm

So in order to reduce the backlog of people waiting in the Philipines, we should admit unlimited amounts of Mexicans?

Noah Yetter May 23, 2006 at 12:42 pm

No, in order to reduce the backlog of people waiting in the Phillipines we should reduce the requirements and speed up the process. And we should do this for Mexico and every other country as well.

Not many who are pro-immigration are solely pro-Mexican-immigration. Your comment is truly non-sensical.

Martin Geddes May 23, 2006 at 3:12 pm

I spent 3 years working in the USA on an H1-B as a highly qualified technologist on a six figure salary. I'm grateful for the experience, but I'd never go through the awful trauma of US-resident immigration ever again. So I'm busy helping build a business back here in the UK. So long, and thanks for all the dollars.

Dan Hill May 24, 2006 at 12:26 am

Brilliant post!

I was lucky to be married to a US citizen, otherwise I wouldn't have bothered to emigrate to the US.

I'm a highly educated citizen of a close US ally (Australia), I was working for a US company that had agreed to transfer me to a job in the US (on a six figure salary), we already owned a condo in Colorado and we'd been married 15 years. And it still took six months! By contrast, when I went to work in Singapore it took ten days to get a work visa.

Ann May 24, 2006 at 8:17 am

"But rule-breakers hurt society only when the rules they break are ones that help society when these rules are followed."

If you don't like the rules, then change them! I don't understand what system you're proposing here – that each individual decides which rules are bad and hence may be ignored? That the police, or judges, get to decide when to selectively enforce the laws? [Yes, there's some selective enforcement already, particularly for minor laws (jay-walking), but this is far more pervasive and thus yields more potential for abuse.] How exactly does your 'only follow the laws you like' process work?

Much of the reason I don't like the idea of amnesty for illegals is because I remember seeing the long lines outside the US Consulate in Hong Kong, and the US Embassy in Manila, of people trying to come legally. By all means we should fix the system, but there are still people who followed the rules and people who didn't. Who should we favor?

We should also have a national debate on whether, and why, people should be able to bring adult children or siblings into the US in a long, never-ending chain.

John Dewey May 24, 2006 at 8:45 am

"We should also have a national debate on whether, and why, people should be able to bring adult children or siblings into the US in a long, never-ending chain."

Yes, we should have this debate. And we should debate many other immigration issues. But we shouldn't allow immigration opponents to delay needed reforms for years and years. Both our economy and Mexico's economy will benefit when labor resources are allowed more freedom to cross our common border.

IMO, Mexicans should receive preferential treatment for two reasons:

- it is always in our best interest to strengthen ties, economic and political, with our closest neighbor;
- it is extremely costly to prevent illegal immigration across a 2,000 mile border, so we may as well legalize it and start deriving the economic benefits.

Henri Hein May 24, 2006 at 12:32 pm

"I don't understand what system you're proposing here – that each individual decides which rules are bad and hence may be ignored"

Prof. Boudreaux suggests no such thing. It's not each individual immigrant that decides immigration is good. That is emperically verifiable.

Don Mynack May 24, 2006 at 12:34 pm

"IMO, Mexicans should receive preferential treatment for two reasons:

- it is always in our best interest to strengthen ties, economic and political, with our closest neighbor;
- it is extremely costly to prevent illegal immigration across a 2,000 mile border, so we may as well legalize it and start deriving the economic benefits."

Is it in our best interest to coddle a country that clings to third world ideas on the power of its central government, promotes the power of a small elite at the expense of almost all others, willingly destroys its own entreprenureal class with rampant corruption, and nationalizes industries at the drop of a hat? One example: We've been trying to get Mexico to open up its oil fields for exploration by private American firms for decades, and so far Mexico hasn't budged. Why should we reward such blatant protectionist behavior even more?

QJH Thompson May 24, 2006 at 2:08 pm

End corporate welfare.

This public immigration debate is one sided. Why not include ending corporate welfare in trade with amnesty for the illegals already here? It is corporate America and socialists politicians that are demanding low wage labor and immigrant votes.

If you give the anti-immigration crowd a carrot, which will be the end or farm subsidies and corporate welfare, they may not use the stick.

I have yet to hear this argument in the immigration debate.

If Americans feel that they are getting something in the deal maybe this anti-immigration rhetoric will die out.

John Dewey May 24, 2006 at 4:26 pm

Don Mynack,

Increasing economic and social ties with Mexico and Mexicans is essential to increasing our security. The more Mexico depends on our economy, the more our interests will align with theirs.

Punishing Mexico and Mexicans because they don't wish to open their oil fields will certainly not motivate them to cooperate with us in the wars on terrorism and drugs. As a nation, it is just not in our best interests to take an adversarial approach with a third-world country with whom we share a 2,000 mile border.

Your note seems to indicate you already regard Mexico as an adversary. I hope you'll reconsider.

faultolerant May 25, 2006 at 5:35 pm

Mexico IS already an adversary in action, but not necessarily in name. A friend who stabs you repeatedly is an adversary, no matter what they wish to call the relationship. You can sugar coat it all you like – but an apple is still an apple even if you call it a pear.

When El Presidente Vicente Fox comes to the US and demands the Americans behave in a given way because his people are literally dieing to leave, that not only takes cojones of the brass variety, it's entirely demonstrative of the corruption and hypocracy of the entire Mexican culture.

Matthew Brown May 31, 2006 at 5:35 pm

Quite apart from the benefit of re-uniting families, the more pragmatic benefit of immigration policies that favor relatives of those already US citizens is that the new immigrants already have a support network in the US, who can help them out. This is, I believe, a good thing. These relatives generally make financial pledges to support the new immigrant for a specified period and thus prevent them from being a public burden.

Michael Joefield June 2, 2006 at 11:07 pm

I have had to wait eleven years im my homeland for my Greencard to be processed, yet others have decided to come into your country illegally and are rewarded. Thanks a lot!

Truth April 20, 2008 at 4:55 pm

What is anti-social about protecting your society? I believe that protecting where you live, work, love, breath, and raise young is the utmost pinnacle of social conscious. Keep that in mind, buddy.

Previous post:

Next post: