Proposal to Axe Green Cards for Unskilled Workers Considered

By Jessica M. Vaughan on October 28, 2011

Yesterday the House Judiciary committee declined to allow a proposal to eliminate one of many anachronisms in our legal immigration system – the green card quota for unskilled workers. Though tiny, this category serves no legitimate economic purpose and now is frequently used fraudulently to allow otherwise unqualified people to get around our rules, enriching crooked visa brokers and, possibly, unscrupulous U.S. employers in the process.

This category for unskilled workers, known in visa jargon as EW, is capped at 10,000 per year, and annual admissions are far less – 4,762 in 2010, including spouses and children. But with a stubbornly high unemployment rate of over 20 percent for unskilled workers, it's fair to ask why we are importing any unskilled workers at all, especially when our family and temporary visa programs already bring in hundreds of thousands of unskilled workers each year.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) introduced an amendment that would have eliminated the both the EW category and the quota, effectively reducing the number of unskilled immigrants and their families by 10,000 per year. It was proposed as an amendment to a bill, which passed, that would adjust the per-country quotas for employment-based immigrants (allowing larger numbers from oversubscribed countries such as China and India but no increase in the overall total), but it was declared not germane.

According to consular officers who adjudicate the visas, the EW category is rife with fraud. About two-thirds of the applicants are from Latin America, mainly Mexico, and just over one-fourth are from Asia, mainly the Philippines and South Korea.

The typical applicant in Asia is a married man with two or three children. These applicants are usually gainfully employed in their home country, but pay as much as $25,000 to a visa broker to arrange an offer of low wage employment ($8-9 per hour) with a U.S. company. The companies are often in the food processing industry and, according to consular officers, are some of the same companies in Arkansas, Georgia, and Mississippi that have been prosecuted by ICE for hiring illegal workers. The regulations require that the applicant must be sponsored by an employer, but apparently do not require that the applicant actually work there once admitted, and no one has ever heard of any investigations. Once the immigrant visa is granted, the family can live and work wherever they want, and the employer is free to fill the job with another worker, legal or otherwise. One consular officer I spoke with said that these cases made up about one-fifth of his employment visa work load.

Why would someone from Korea or the Philippines pay $25,000 for an immigrant visa? Lots of reasons: a superior public (free) education for their children, higher earning potential, cheaper housing, etc. And all we ask is that they have a job offer from a U.S. company that is willing to file paperwork saying it needs unskilled foreign workers, perhaps giving it cover to hire illegal workers when the Asian middle-class workers it mentioned don't show up.

If Congress ever gets around to doing an extreme makeover of our immigration system, it will find other visa programs like this that are completely expendable, have no worthy constituency, and serve no purpose other than to displace U.S. workers and invite fraud.