BPC Releases Report on Reforming Employment Immigration

Reforming Employment-Based Immigration: Charting a Path Forward
Bipartisan Policy Center
July 2022

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.

Who Decides?

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.

Image credit: Russ Allison Loar/Creative Commons

Update: Pew Adds to Mountain of Data Showing Support for Immigration Reform

Just two days after this post with a summary of recent public opinion surveys on immigration, the Pew Research Center, on June 4, released their yet another poll, and it is very consistent with others going back months and years. 

In the Pew survey, nearly three in four Americans (72%) agreed that “there should be a way for [undocumented immigrants] to stay in the country legally, if certain requirements are met.” Democrats, Independents and Republicans all favored allowing undocumented immigrants to remain in the country legally (80%, 76% and 56%, respectively). Like a number of other surveys, this survey finds that young people are among the greatest supporters of the path to legal status—81% of those younger than 30.

Only 36 percent of respondents to the Pew survey felt that giving undocumented immigrants a path to legal status “is like rewarding them for doing something wrong.” Among Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents in this survey, only 34% said that Republicans were doing a good job representing their views on the immigration issue.

Bottom line: the public is far ahead of Congress when it comes to support for immigration reform with a path to citizenship.

Republican Primary Messages Contradict Public Support for a Path to Citizenship

The first half of 2015 is nearly over. So far this year, the immigration debate has been dominated by President Obama’s executive action on immigration and Republican efforts to stop it. Republican state leaders have been successful in using the courts to temporarily halt the president’s action. Congress has drafted legislation to overturn the President’s actions. Presidential races are underway, and many candidates for the Republican nomination have vowed to end the President’s order.

Between last year and this, the focus of the immigration debate has changed. Last year, it was legislation moving through Congress that would have offered long-resident undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, provided they could meet certain conditions. Conservative Republicans were successful at killing reform.

This year, with Congress seeming incapable of reforming the immigration laws, the President has acted to protect, at least temporarily, some of the same long-resident undocumented immigrants who would have benefited from the legislation. Again, conservative Republicans are trying to stop relief for these aspiring Americans.

It’s time to take another look at how the public feels about all this. By looking at several public opinion polls since the beginning of the year, it is clear that the public’s attitude has changed very little from last year to this. There is majority support for allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. legally.


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Jeff Sessions: Champion of the American Worker? Really?

Senator Jeff Session (R-AL) has been the Senate’s leading opponent of comprehensive immigration reform. He now chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee Immigration Subcommittee. On April 9, Senator Sessions published an opinion piece in the Washington Post, laying out his case against legal immigration.

During the immigration reform debates in previous congresses, Mr. Sessions has been an ardent opponent of giving our long-resident undocumented immigrants a way to gain legal status. In this piece, he touts his opposition to legal immigrants as well.

As is typical of immigration restrictionists, Mr. Sessions cloaks his anti-immigrant inclinations in arguments supporting the American worker. Let’s look at a couple of those arguments.

Continue reading “Jeff Sessions: Champion of the American Worker? Really?”

As Hope for Reform Fades, Administrative Action Becomes More Likely

On June 30, President Obama made remarks in which he criticized the failure of House Republicans to “stand up to the Tea Party in order to do what’s best for the country” and pass an immigration reform bill. He said that he would begin a new effort “to fix as much of the immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress.” He directed DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder to move resources to the border, and to make additional recommendations by the end of the summer, after which he will adopt those recommendations “without further delay.”

The president made this announcement after he was informed that Republicans would block a vote on an immigration bill at least for the remainder of the year.

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Despite Cantor Loss, Reform Still Alive in Congress

It has been nearly a year since the Senate passed a sweeping immigration overhaul on June 27. The House has yet to act. The cause of the delay continues to be the internal divisions within the Republican Conference, with a sizable numbers of the conference opposed to reform.  Many members of Congress are now waiting to see how the primary season will turn out. Will members who have voiced support for immigration reform retain their positions?

Republican primary elections have yet to offer clarity on support for reform

On June 10, the small-tent faction of the Republican party, or the “tea party,” celebrated victory in Virginia’s 7th Congressional district, where a poorly-funded tea party challenger beat the Republican Party’s second-highest-ranking member in the House, Eric Cantor. Cantor was seen as a supporter of reform, although he played both sides of the issue during his campaign. Still, his opponent attacked Cantor’s support for “amnesty,” and Cantor’s loss has given the press more reason to declare immigration reform officially dead.

On the other hand, other primaries have yielded the opposite results for candidates who have been supporters of reform. On the same day that Cantor lost, one of the leaders in pushing reform legislation through the Senate, Lindsey Graham, very comfortably won his primary in South Carolina. Graham received 57 percent of the vote, far ahead of the 15 percent received by the second-place finisher in a field of six challengers.

Continue reading “Despite Cantor Loss, Reform Still Alive in Congress”

Reading the Tea Leaves on Immigration Reform

As Congress returns from a two-week recess, we are still awaiting movement on immigration reform in the House. While there is still no sign of concrete accomplishment in the House, the tension between the two factions of House Republicans continue to break the surface and create news for immigration reporters always looking to write immigration reform’s obituary.

An example: Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and a potential Republican presidential candidate, created a stir when he said of undocumented immigrants,

“Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family. I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime that there should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families.”

As usual, any suggestion that undocumented immigrants be treated with something less than mass deportation caused some on the right wing of the Republican Party to have an apoplectic fit. However, there were also prominent voices within the party who came to Mr. Bush’s defense.

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With Reform Stuck in the House, Pressure Increases on the President


With the clock ticking on immigration reform in this Congress, House Republicans show no sign of bringing immigration reform legislation to a vote. Advocates, while still pushing House leaders to act, have begun to turn their attention to the president.

Since his State of the Union Address, the president has repeatedly promised to use his executive authority to do what he can on any number of issues that remain stalled because of congressional inaction. Immigration advocates—and some members of Congress—are urging him to use his executive authority to mitigate the suffering endured by families due to the broken immigration system.

President Obama has, up to now, maintained that he has limited authority to stop deportations. However, on March 14, the president met with reform advocates and told them he has ordered a review, in search of a more “humane” deportation policy.  Possible changes being considered, according to press reports, include the easing or stopping the deportations of persons who have no criminal convictions other than immigration violations and a limitation on immigration detainers. Experts—including former ICE Acting Director John Sandweg—have proposed other shifts in policy that would help ease the burden on families.

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Ups and Downs: Republican Leaders Backing Off from Immigration Reform


If the immigration reform debate was an amusement ride, it would be a roller coaster. At the end of last month, House Republican leaders released a set of “standards” that, they said, would guide their work on immigration reform in this Congress. A few days later, on February 6, House Speaker John Boehner went before the press to say that,

“…there’s widespread doubt about whether [the Obama administration] can be trusted to enforce our laws, and it’s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.”

Mr. Boehner appeared to be dampening hopes he had raised the week before that the House would act on immigration reform. This latest news won’t be the end of the immigration reform ride in this Congress.

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House Republicans Get Ready to Move on Immigration Reform

At a retreat of the Republican Conference at the end of January, Republican leaders released a set of “standards” for immigration reform. The standards acknowledge that the immigration system must be fixed, and Republicans will devise solutions through a “step-by-step” process. Their vision includes putting border security and interior enforcement first, implementing an entry-exit visa tracking system, a universal electronic employment verification system, reforms to the legal immigration system that include more visas for skilled workers and a workable temporary worker program, and some process for allowing the undocumented to live in the country legally (including legal residency and citizenship for young people brought to the country as children).

The standards leave much to interpretation. For example, regarding border security, the standards say, “[w]e must secure our borders now and verify that they are secure.”  What does that verification look like? The standards say “[t]here will be no special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation’s immigration laws….” Does this preclude citizenship for the undocumented?

All of this will become concrete once legislation is drafted in the coming months. For the most part, advocates are cautiously optimistic—encouraged that Republican leaders are acknowledging the need for reform, but needing to see how these standards are interpreted in legislation.

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