How to Fix the Legal Immigration System

In a recent series of TexasGOPVote articles, I proposed that fixing the broken immigration system will require bipartisan legislation involving three main policies: improving border security, adjusting legal immigration to allow for the entry of needed workers, and creating a method for unauthorized immigrants to earn legal status through an ID and Tax policy. This article takes a closer look at adjustments that lawmakers should make to the legal immigration system that will increase economic growth, combat inflation, and prevent illegal immigration.

Throughout its history the US economy has benefited from a competitive advantage of attracting immigrants from around the world. With the US population growth rate at all-time low, open jobs at an all-time high, and Baby Boomers aging into retirement, unprecedented workforce shortages are undoubtedly contributing to the increasing costs of goods and services. The US needs more workers to support its aging population demographic and to alleviate the highest inflation we’ve experienced in 40 years.

Legal immigration also has clear bipartisan support, and bipartisan success in legislating adjustments and reforms to the legal immigration system could crack the stalemate on additional needed bipartisan legislation related to unauthorized immigration.

For example, after a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Republican Representative Andy Harris urged the Biden Administration to grant additional H-2B (temporary guest worker visas) citing unprecedented workforce shortages, Biden increased the limit of H-2B visas by 20,000 on January 28, 2022.

The CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce also recently called for a doubling of legal immigration into the US, saying that the current labor crisis is contributing to supply chain disruptions and inflation, and is undermining business growth. Immigrants, who are more often working age (78.7%) compared to native-born Americans (61.5%), can help to fill jobs where Americans can’t.

In times like these, the US immigration system would benefit from the flexibility to adjust levels of immigration in accordance with economic demand. When open jobs are up and unemployment is down, legal immigration should be increased. When unemployment is up and more Americans are looking for jobs, immigration and guest worker visas could be temporarily tapered.

However, improving the flow of legal immigration is not as simple as just flipping a switch. There is currently a backlog of over 8 million immigration cases pending throughout the US immigration system. And in 2021 alone, the federal government failed to issue up to 230,000 green cards that were available for immigrants sponsored by American employers or family members - all while employers were begging for workers.

In order to improve the flow of legal immigration and reduce backlogs, lawmakers must work in a bipartisan manner to the expand the capacity of the US immigration system staff and streamline processes to improve the rate of case processing. Some simple solutions that could help improve the efficiency of our legal immigration system and prevent the waste of visas would be increasing the number of US immigration judges and teams and increasing USCIS staff that process immigration and temporary worker applications. Lawmakers should also expand capacity and build processing centers that increase interagency cooperation at points of entry. These are solutions that should be able to garner bipartisan support in Congress like they did in the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act that was proposed last year.

Upon expanding the US’ capacities to process immigration cases, another solution to help reduce immigration court backlogs and increase the immediate flow of immigration would be the recapturing of unused green cards. The Immigration and Nationality Act establishes a specific number of employment and family based green cards to be issued per year. Due mostly to processing delays or administrative procedures, hundreds of thousands of allotted green cards have gone unused over the past 20 years.  

There is already bipartisan support on this issue. A bipartisan group of lawmakers including Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn reintroduced the Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act in May of 2021 to recapture 40,000 visas for employment based immigrants who work in healthcare.

Lawmakers should also consider increasing pathways of employment-based immigration for immigrants that do not have college degrees but that have skills and the will to work in non-agricultural labor-intensive industries like construction where workers are in high demand. Currently the US only allows for the entry of 5,000 “low skill” immigrants on employment green cards per year. This means that there currently is no legal pathway or “line” of immigration for many people who want to move to the US for work and do not have a family member here.

A lot of talk about immigration today is centered around the border and unauthorized immigration. One of the best ways to prevent illegal immigration is through having a legal immigration system and laws that align with the current economic needs of the US. As long as there are open jobs in the US that Americans are unavailable to fill, immigrants will come to fill them. We should make it possible for them to do so legally.

Immigrants won’t take Americans’ jobs because employers looking to bring in immigrants or quest workers on employment visas must demonstrate that there are not enough US workers who are willing, qualified, and available to do the work. They also must demonstrate that the immigrant workers will not adversely affect wage and working conditions of similarly employed American workers. Additionally, there are never a fixed number of jobs in the economy. As more people come and work, they bring spending power and consumer demand that fuels job growth economy wide.

Additionally, the Biden Administration should stop using Title 42 to block asylum seekers from applying for asylum at ports of entry. As a result of this questionable policy, the only way for immigrants to apply for asylum is to cross the border between ports of entry and turn themselves in to border patrol. This undoubtedly places a large strain on border patrol resources and distracts them from carrying out other duties more pertinent to national security.

Finally, from a humanitarian perspective the US can and should accept more refugees who are being prosecuted for their religious beliefs, political opinions, or social groups. In 2021, only 11,411 refugees were admitted to the US – the lowest annual number on record. Improving pathways for refugees to come will also help to decrease asylum seeker traffic at the border.  


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