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Senator pushes for more work-based visas

While much of the nation is experiencing a cold spell, immigration reform is gaining heat in Congress. Recently, Senator Marco Rubio got people talking when he outlined his ideal immigration plan in the Wall Street Journal. Sen. Rubio's plan focuses extensively on expanding visas for highly-skilled workers.

The senator cited the statistic that only about 6.5 percent of immigrants come to the United States on employment visas. He said, for this reason, the country needs to "move toward merit and skill-based immigration." But he added that the extra visas for workers should come from adding visas instead of stealing them away from family-based immigration.

But could it really be that only 6.5 percent of immigrants enter the country on employment-based visas? Polifact then researched the senator's statistic and concluded that it is "mostly true" and came from an immigration report by the Brookings Institution.

To help clear things up, the chief demographer for the Pew Hispanic Center explained that 6.5 percent of immigrants enter the country on employment-based green cards, but when you add their family members, the figure jumps to 13 percent. This figure also leaves out immigrants who enter the country on short-term work visas.

However, employment-based immigration still represents a much smaller portion than family-based green cards, which accounted for 55 percent of the green cards issued in the 2011 fiscal year. Here is a breakdown of the 1,062,040 total green cards granted during the 2011 fiscal year, compiled by ABC News:

  • 43 percent - Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.
  • 22 percent - Family-sponsored preferences.
  • 13 percent - Employment-based preferences.
  • 11 percent - Refugees.
  • 5 percent - The diversity visa lottery.
  • 1 percent - Cancellation of removal.
  • 1 percent - Asylees.
  • 1 percent - Other.

As you can see, the immigration system in the United States favors family ties over employment opportunity, and this will undoubtedly become an important issue during immigration reform talks.

Source: ABC News, "Rubio Says Few Skilled Worker Visas - Is He Right?" Ted Hesson, Jan. 17, 2013

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