Reforming Employment-Based Immigration: Charting a Path Forward
Bipartisan Policy Center
In July, the Bipartisan Policy Center published a report that summarized conversations that took place among groups of stakeholders who were convened to discuss possible reforms to the U.S. employment-based immigration system. The stakeholder groups convened by BPC represented labor, employers, and immigrant rights advocates. The starting point was polling conducted by BPC in 2021 showing that the public was more likely to reach consensus on immigration reforms that focused on “providing visas for immigrants supporting U.S. economy by filling positions where companies cannot find U.S. workers.”
The groups were encouraged to think about an immigration system re-designed from the ground up, instead of tweaking current immigration laws. There were working groups focused on high-skilled and lesser-skilled immigration.
Policy proposals resulting from these discussions resemble those of similar efforts to prescribe solutions for our broken immigration system that have been undertaken over the past three decades — including, for example, the Independent Task Force on Immigration and America’s Future, convened by the Migration Policy Institute and others in 2005 and 2006.
In the BPC convening, both high-skilled and lesser skilled working groups agreed the immigration system currently lacks transparency and clarity, and that makes it difficult for workers and employers to make long-term plans. The immigration system should clearly define how the immigration system aligns with the national interest, and balances the needs of workers and employers.
Some of the policy prescriptions discussed within the working groups include:
- Clearer pathways to transition from temporary to permanent status, and more opportunities to do so.
- More permanent visas to balance the current over-reliance on temporary visas, including opportunity for those who can fill demonstrated labor needs regardless of education or skill level.
- A streamlined process that is less arduous for immigrants and employers.
- A labor certification process that ensures that workers entering the country are complementary to U.S. workers, and not competing for the same positions.
- Increasing visa portability, so that workers can more easily move from one employer to another, while providing employers with some assurance that workers will stay for some period of time so that time and resources spent on the visa application and training may be recouped.
- Provide greater opportunity to reward with permanent status those who have built equity in the U.S. — for example, foreign students educated and trained in the U.S., or seasonal workers who have completed multiple cycles of seasonal work.
The report also identifies areas where consensus between employer groups and labor and immigrant advocates was more difficult — including the continued use and regulation of recruiters, and the proper balance between employer concerns and workers rights.
The working groups convened by BPC echoed the recommendations of others regarding how immigration levels are set and changed. The process should be somewhat insulated from politics, by having an independent group of experts determine immigration levels based at least in part on labor market needs. Congress would no doubt retain some role, but the system should have built in to it some method to ensure timely Congressional action.
The ideas presented in this report, as well as other policy proposals for fixing our immigration system offered over that past 30 years face the same obstacle: a lack of political will in Congress to make the needed changes. This report acknowledges that fact by concluding that:
Clarifying the ineffectiveness of the legal immigration system, its failure to work as intended for all involved, and its impact on the other aspects of the immigration system, from border control to undocumented immigrants, is needed to push the issue forward in Congress.