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Reforming Employment-Based Immigration

Charting A Path Forward

Comprehensive immigration reform has been “on the table” in Congress for two decades, with the last substantial reform to the legal immigration system passed in 1990 under then-President George H.W. Bush. Yet majorities of both parties view the current system as broken and support legalization for long-term undocumented residents, including Dreamers, and securing the southern border.

However, polling by the Bipartisan Policy Center and Morning Consult in April and May 2021 offered a potential path forward for legislation by focusing on updating legal immigration, and economic-based immigration in particular.2 The polls found that Democrats, independents, and Republicans were more likely to compromise on “providing visas for immigrants supporting U.S. economy by filling positions where companies cannot find U.S. workers,” than either border security or legalization.3 This policy was also generally ranked in the middle in salience, meaning that it is neither the most nor least important to either party, providing an opening for policymakers to finally create movement on reform.

With this in mind, over several months in 2021 and 2022, BPC convened separate groups of diverse stakeholders, representing employers, labor union perspectives, and immigrant rights advocates, to discuss possible reforms to the United States’ lesser-skilled and high-skilled legal immigration systems. The groups considered what the legal immigration system might look like if designed from the ground up, instead of thinking about tweaks to the existing system. What follows is an overview of the conclusions we have drawn from these meetings that might provide a framework for future legal immigration reform discussions in Congress.

Key Takeaways:

System fixes

  • Increasing overall clarity, transparency, and predictability of the immigration system
  • Building more temporary to permanent pathways and dual intent pathways
  • Streamlining immigration processes and increasing online accessibility
  • Forming an Independent Permanent Commission on the Labor Market

Fixes to labor certifications and the visa regime

  • Ensuring complementarity (immigrants should fill needed “holes” in the U.S. workforce)
  • Guaranteeing protection of U.S. workers
  • Reimagining the labor certification process

Ensuring workers’ rights

  • Increasing portability to ensure workers are not “locked in” to undesirable employment situations
  • Keeping workers and their families together
  • Protecting workers’ rights and increasing employer accountability
  • Rewarding students and workers who have built equity in the U.S.
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