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The Gang of Eight’s Torrent of Immigrants: Is the Real Number 57 Million?

Senator Jeff Sessions held a press conference this morning to introduce a new analysis that concludes the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill will actually result in at least 57 million new immigrants over the next ten years, significantly more than previous estimates. The issue is critically important, so Sessions’ statement is worth reading carefully and in its entirety:

The Gang of Eight has stated, “this legislation does not significantly increase long-term, annual migration to the United States” and has indicated the legislation shift the United States from low- skill and chain migration to high-skill merit-based. Conspicuously, however, they have refused to provide an estimate of future flow. A conservative analysis of the legislation, with low-range estimates for the new and expanded visa programs, reveals that the proposal would dramatically increase the future flow of low-skill workers and chain migration and provide legal status and work authorization to 30 million immigrants over the next 10 years—who will then be able to bring in family members, initiating a wave of non-merit-based chain migration that will greatly increase low-skilled immigration.

Here is a shorthand way of looking at the explosive growth in the number of people who will be granted work authorization and permanent residency over the next 10 years, largely on a non- merit based track:

 An estimated 2.5 million DREAM beneficiaries of any age (including those no longer living in the country) will be eligible for citizenship in five years.

 DREAM beneficiaries will be able to bring in an unlimited number of parents, spouses, and children (not subject to any cap) and those spouses, children, and parents will get permanent legal status in five years and be eligible for citizenship in 10.

 An estimated 800,000 illegal agricultural workers will become legal permanent residents (green card holders) in five years and will then be eligible to bring in an unlimited number of spouses and children.

 An estimated 8 million additional illegal immigrants, including recent arrivals and millions of visa overstays, will receive legal status and work authorization. These 8 million will be able to bring in their relatives as soon as 10 years from now. Those relatives, over time, will be able to bring in spouses, children, and parents.

 An estimated 4.5 million aliens awaiting employment and family-based visas under current cap limitations will be cleared in less than 10 years, not subject to the family-based annual cap (thus freeing up room for more family-based migration that is subject to the annual cap).

The bill increases the level of immigration through current and new visa systems. Here are just some examples of how the bill increases legal immigration through visas:

 The bill creates a new merit based visa, which allows for up to 250,000 visas annually. If a little over half of the visas are issued over a 10-year period, the increase in the number of immigrants would be 1,250,000.

 The bill creates a new guest worker program (W-1) for low-skilled workers with a cap of 200,000 visas annually. If a little over a half of the guest workers visas available are issued over a 10-year period, the increase in the number of immigrants would be 1,000,000.

 The bill creates a new nonimmigrant agricultural workers program (W-3 & W-4 visa) which allows up to 112,333 annually. If half of the visas are issued over a 10-year period, the increase in the number of nonimmigrants would be 561,665.

 The bill exempts Priority Workers (EB-1 under current law), STEM graduates, and spouses and children of LPRs from the employment-based visa caps. By taking the average number of immigrants in the two exempt categories over the past 10 years, the exemption will account for an additional 762,000 immigrants over 10 years.

 The bill increases the H-1B visa cap up to 180,000 with a floor of 110,000. If half of the H-1B visas are issued over a 10-year period, the increase in the number of immigrants would be 1,450,000.

 The bill leaves current employment visa caps unchanged and moderately decreases family caps, allowing 301,000 visas a year with some exemptions, but allows for unused visas from 1992 through 2013 to be recaptured. Over a 10-year period, the number of legal immigrants would be 3,879,094.

The total number of immigrants obtaining legal status from the programs listed above is 24,702,759 over a 10-year period. That number does not include other immigrant and nonimmigrant visa programs in the bill (i.e. refugee and asylum seekers, W-1 visas, W-2 visas, W-3 visas, W-4 visas), nor does it include student visas who are now allowed dual intent.

The Gang of Eight’s bill will drastically increase low-skill chain migration. Some of the chain categories are subject to an annual family-based visa cap of 161,000, including adult unmarried sons and daughters of citizens or LPRs, and married sons and daughters (under the age of 31) of U.S. citizens. However, the bill completely exempts the largest categories of chain migrants from the family- and employment-based visa caps, including spouses and children of LPRs or citizens and parents of citizens. The following illustrates how the exempt chain migration categories will dramatically increase the future flow by millions of immigrants over the next 10 years:

 An estimate 2–3 million DREAM beneficiaries are eligible for legal permanent residency and citizenship after just 5 years. After receiving LPR status, the DREAMers may bring a spouse and child through the bill’s exempt chain category and, once granted citizenship, can bring their parents as well (not subject to cap). Assuming 1 million DREAMers bring any combination of two people, the future flow of immigrants would increase by over 2 million. This does not include other chain migrants that a DREAMer may petition under the caps, including adult unmarried sons and daughters, and married sons and daughters. Subsequently, the chain migrants will have the same opportunity to petition for their relatives in the same manner as the DREAMers.

The following charts show how, over the first decade, the total number granted will be well over 32 million (not taking into account chain migration from increased legal flow). Adding in all the various categories of nonimmigrant work visas, and the number climbs to more than 57 million. Further, because approximately 7 million illegal immigrants are on a 13-year track to citizenship, there will be a second wave of chain migration initiated just outside the 10-year window (substantially increasing the net low-skill immigration).

It is noteworthy that the bill’s proponents have not come forward with their own estimate of how many immigrants it would lead to over the next ten years. Nor have the bill’s supporters identified the sources of these immigrants or their levels of skill and training. Here is what strikes me as a very modest proposal: there should be no vote on the Gang of Eight’s plan until its supporters and opponents have reached a consensus, to within at least 10 million, on the number of immigrants that will be authorized under the legislation.

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