Aliens from Some Nations Are More Equal than Others

By David North on October 31, 2014

Speaking generally, our immigration laws and practices are supposed to be blind and unbiased as far as national origin is concerned. If a citizen marries a partner from overseas, we expect that the spouse will be treated the same no matter where the partner was born — Albania or Zambia.

But over the years, through a variety of mechanisms, special arrangements for people from specific countries have crept into our systems, making some aliens, to quote George Orwell, more equal than others. Most of these arrangements favor people from a single nation; a few others benefit small groups of countries, as we spell out in the table below.

Frankly, from a policy view, this is worrisome. If this country makes exceptions for people from Place A, why not extend that migration break to those from Places B, C, and D?

President Obama has just made a special arrangement benefitting a particular group of family migrants from Haiti, as we noted in an earlier blog. Why should he not do a similar deal for an attractive subgroup from Iraq? Or Paraguay?

If a whole lot of exceptions are made, then the general rule, whatever it is, gets overwhelmed. These exceptions can take place either within the permanent migration categories, or within the temporary ones. All of them make migration easier for someone, and we have an adequate amount of this without any extras.

Our collection includes special breaks to aliens from 17 jurisdictions, all noted in the first column of the table. Canada is listed twice; no other nation has that distinction.

Some of the additional benefits are very substantial, such as the award of a green card; others are less significant, such as the waiving of the need for a visa. And some of them make more sense than others. Given the minimal illegal migration over the northern border, for example, as opposed to the massive flows at the southern one, the regulations on the north are milder.

The special arrangements can be created in a number of ways. Sometimes Congress does it through legislation. Sometimes it is the result of a treaty provision that does not need the concurrence of the House of Representatives — and thus is a dubious practice. Sometimes it is the result of the regulatory process, and the most recent, regarding Haitian family members, was brought to us by a White House press release.

History buffs will notice that every one of the nations listed in the first column used to belong to somebody's empire, eight relate to the British Empire and six to the Spanish one, leaving Haiti, Macau, and Taiwan alumni, respectively, of the French, Portuguese, and Japanese empires. The three island states in the Central Pacific were all parts of both the German and the Japanese empires after centuries of Spanish rule.

Given the complexities of immigration law, and the wiles of the lobbyists, we may have missed one or two. If so, let us know.

Favoritism in American Immigration Law and Practice
We Favor We Don't Favor The Program
Australian H-1Bs, i.e., high-tech workers All other H-1Bs Because of the E-3 visa program, Australians have de facto numerically free access to the H-1B program, unlike others, and E-3 spouses can work, as H-1B spouses cannot
Visitors from Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos (a UK colony) All others except Canadians Because of a bi-lateral agreement, many of these visitors do not need visas
Canadians All others, but those noted in prior row Canadians do not need a passport or an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) document to enter the U.S., as others do
Canadians Mexicans In the L-1 and TN visa programs, Canadians can secure visas at the border or at a consulate; Mexicans must apply at a consulate
H-1B-like aliens from Chile and Singapore All other H-1Bs save Australians The H-1B1 program for these countries is very much like the E-3 program described above
Cuban illegals Haitian illegals If stopped at sea, both groups are sent home, but if the Cubans reach land they can apply for legal status; Haitians cannot
Haitian family migrants in a new (fall, 2014) program All other family migrants Family migrants within two years of the date of visa availability can come to the U.S. legally, comparable aliens from other nations must wait
Those born in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan Mainland Chinese The 7 percent of all numerically limited legal migration ceiling impacts Chinese from the Mainland, but not the other places; similarly the diversity visa lottery is not open to Mainlanders, but it is to the others
Jamaican H-2A farm workers All other H-2As Temporary farm workers from a long list of Caribbean jurisdictions do not need visas to come to the U.S. in this program; all other H-2A farm workers do; Jamaican farm workers are the main beneficiaries
Citizens of the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau Everyone else in the world People from these Central Pacific island republics can, at will, enter the U.S. as legal, permanent nonimmigrants; no one else can
Spouses and children of LPRs from Mexico (intending immigrants) All other spouses and children of LPRs Spouses and children of lawful permanent residents (LPRs) from Mexico are not covered by the country ceilings, others are
UK citizens from Northern Ireland All other UK citizens Only UK citizens from Northern Ireland may enter the diversity lottery, others may not

Source: Center for Immigration Studies, Washington, DC.

The table shows a variety of one- or several-nation exceptions to our general immigration laws and regulations In addition, the American system also has a broad program for residents of 38 largely prosperous nations to come here without visas; this is the Visa Waiver Program.

Then, too, there is the regrettable diversity visa program, which allocates 50,000 green cards a year to the winners of a global lottery; residents of 19 nations are not eligible to participate because we already have a substantial number of migrants from each of those nations.

CIS congressional testimony is available on the diversity lottery as well as on the visa waiver program.

David North
Jessica Vaughan