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Guzzardi column: New report points to massive immigration issue

The Migration Policy Institute, which describes itself as a nonpartisan think tank that seeks “to improve immigration” through its research and analysis, recently published a report stating that in FY 2018 the State Department issued 9 million temporary visas to nonimmigrants. Although the 2018 total represents a 7 percent decline from FY 2017, 9 million is still a staggering number, the rough equivalent of New Jersey’s population.

MPI blames the visa issuance’s decline on President Trump’s more restrictive immigration policies and his “harsh rhetoric” that conveys the impression that the U.S. has become a “less welcoming place.” Be that as it may, the huge 9 million number indicates that the U.S. is generous, not restrictive, in its approach to foreign workers and visitors. Moreover, MPI didn’t outline the benefits to American citizens of fewer temporary workers and students on visas.

Employment visas – which give foreign nationals the right to legally work in the U.S. – include the H-1–for skilled employees, the H-2A for seasonal agricultural workers, the H-2–and the H-2R for seasonal nonagricultural workers, the O-1 and O-2 for workers with allegedly extraordinary ability or achievements, the P-1 for athletes and artists, the L-1 for intracompany transferrers, the E visa for investors and, finally, the TN visa for Canadian and Mexican professionals, as well as their spouses and minor children. Critics have long insisted that many of the visas are unnecessary, and hurt Americans.

For example, H-2–visas, limited to 66,000 annually, are granted to overseas workers who, among other positions, take landscaping, lifeguard and hospitality jobs – jobs Americans would eagerly do.

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Temporary worker visa issuance has been on a dramatically upward trend since 2014. The number increased from 732,000 in FY 2014 to 911,000 in 2017 and to 925,000 in 2018. Basically, the presence of employment-based visa holders means that for Americans job competition is more intense, and citizens who hold jobs may find their employment status at risk from foreign, often cheaper workers.

For U.S. citizen students, especially those who hope to matriculate at their local state universities, the 27 percent decline from an estimated 1 million student visas in FY 2015 to 781,000 in FY 2018 means less international competition. Since overseas students pay higher tuition, college admissions offices prefer them to U.S. students who pay lower instate fees. The top international student sending nations are China, India, South Korea, Brazil and Germany which represent 39 percent of all student visas issued in FY 2018.

But the most troubling aspect of the huge inflow of foreign temporary visitors is that an estimated 40 percent of illegal aliens entered the U.S. legally on visas, but overstayed and thus became illegally present. Temporary eventually becomes permanent. Most overstays find white-collar jobs. In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security reported that during a recent 12-month period, nearly 740,000 foreign nationals didn’t return home in accordance with their visas’ terms. Their illegal presence is one of the major contributors to illegal immigration. Analysts have found that in each of the last seven years, visa overstays have exceeded illegal crossings.

The sad truth is that the federal government isn’t looking for overstays, and if it did look would have no idea where to start its search. But if Costco can immediately locate every brick of cheese in its 762 worldwide stores, then the federal government should be able to track down foreign visa overstays. A program exists that would help reach that goal – a biometric entry/exit system – but Congress has been indifferent to implementing it.

Fewer visas is good news for prospective U.S. college students and American workers. The fewer visas that are issued also means that the illegal alien population as well as the population in general will not continue to swell with overstayers.

Immigration advocates always push for more visas, so fewer is a refreshing change of pace that results in tangible advantages for many American workers and students.

Contact Joe Guzzardi at jguzzardi@pfirdc.org.


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