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Navigating the Dichotomy in U.S. Immigration Policy and its Economic Ramifications – A Human Capital Perspective.

Ana Paula Montanha
Posted on Wed Sep 27
7 min read

The United States is at a precarious crossroads, wrestling with an immigration policy that appears dangerously imbalanced. This imbalance not only imperils our economic prospects but also invites scrutiny regarding the strategic deployment of our high-value immigration visas—specifically the EB1A and EB2-NIW categories. These specialized visas serve as powerful economic catalysts and deserve careful attention, especially when weighed against the high rate of illegal border crossings.

Understanding the Employment-based Visas

Let’s unpack employment-based visas’ complexity, starting with the EB1A and EB2-NIW categories. By Section 203(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the EB1A visa category is tailored for individuals who have exhibited “extraordinary ability” across diverse fields like science, arts, education, business, or athletics. These are the global leaders in innovation and creativity. Conversely, the EB2-NIW category, courtesy of the National Interest Waiver, aims at professionals with advanced degrees or unparalleled skill sets. These people stand at the forefront of technological advancements, healthcare solutions, entrepreneurs generating hundreds of thousands of jobs, and other sectors crucial to America’s competitive edge. These visas target a highly specialized cohort within the immigrant population. They are vital conduits for attracting and retaining global talents who significantly contribute to the United States’ competitiveness and innovation.

Imagine a system that efficiently harnessed this potential; we’re talking about groundbreaking scientific research, exponential technological growth, cybersecurity, AI, and a quantum leap in global competitiveness. These individuals bring more than their résumés; they bring intellectual properties, business ventures, and, most importantly, job creation—catalyzing a multiplier effect on the American economy. Therefore, it becomes economically prudent to advocate for an expanded allocation and streamlined processing of these visas. The multiplier effect on the American economy could be staggering, reinforcing the need for an expanded allocation and more efficient processing of these visas.

The Stark Imbalance: A Missed Opportunity

Recent statistics are alarming: for every individual granted an EB1A or EB2-NIW visa, approximately 35.7 persons cross into the U.S. illegally.

The number of employment-based (EB) visas available in a fiscal year (FY) varies due to several factors, including legislative statutes, carry-over from unused family-based visas from the previous fiscal year, and per-country limits. However, the foundational law, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), designates an annual minimum of 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas divided across five categories: EB-1, EB-2, EB-3, EB-4, and EB-5. Under INA Section 203(b), each primary category (EB-1, EB-2, and EB-3) generally receives 28.6% of the overall limit, translating to approximately 40,040 visas for each category under the base annual limit of 140,000. The remaining classes, EB-4 and EB-5, usually receive 7.1% each, equivalent to roughly 9,940 visas per category.

This numerical disparity isn’t mere trivia; it’s an indictment of a systemic failure that needs immediate correction. Under current INA regulations, a paltry 40,040 visas are set aside annually for each category. Therefore, EB1A and EB2-NIW represent roughly 80,080 visas per year. This inadequate allocation constitutes a lost opportunity to amplify America’s intellectual and economic capital significantly.

Individuals falling under these classifications primarily serve as thought leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs, and key drivers in high-impact research and development projects. By doing so, they not only enhance America’s global standing in these fields of expertise and research but also create hundreds of thousands of job opportunities, boost economic growth, and fulfill roles in fields facing talent shortages. These categories are indispensable in safeguarding our nation’s economic vitality and intellectual preeminence.

Asylum Seekers: An Alternate, Complex Journey, and Perhaps a Dangerous route.

The U.S. has long been a refuge for asylum seekers, mainly from Central American countries plagued by violence, poverty, and instability. It is essential to clarify that it’s not enough for a Central American citizen, for example, a Venezuelan, to assert that life is challenging under the Nicolás Maduro regime. That applicant must prove either torture or a “well-founded fear” of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a social group. As the DOJ statistics show, few illegal entrants can carry that burden. If an immigration judge finds an alien is removable and ineligible for any relief or protection from removal, the judge will remove the alien. ICE is then responsible for any subsequent detention and removal activities. Issuing a removal order does not guarantee the physical removal of an alien from the United States.

Worse than that, most orders removed won’t depart, and DHS is not assured that all Migrants Can be Located Once Released into the United States. More than 52 percent of those migrants did not check in with ICE as required, based on published ICE data through FY2023.

Providing a haven to illegal entrants at the border — whether they’re “asylum-seekers” or not- is not in our country’s best economic interest.

The U.S. has observed an unprecedented surge of approximately 6 million undocumented immigrants within the past three years. Only in the last fiscal year, which concluded on September 30, 2023, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported 2,860,127 encounters. All those undocumented immigrants crossing the borders illegally claim to be asylum seekers.

Asylum seekers’ economic contributions remain enigmatic.

While it is paramount to acknowledge that the asylum program primarily serves humanitarian objectives, most asylum seekers may not offer the specialized skill sets and expertise of their employment-based counterparts.

Economic Implications of Protracted Waiting Periods

Per USCIS data, the average span for work authorization for an EB2-NIW adjusting its status in the U.S. is currently roughly 18.5 months. Additionally, a considerable number of applicants have yet to receive their travel authorization since 2020, thereby hamstringing their potential contributions to the U.S. economy. Recently, EB2-NIW seekers cannot even adjudicate their status as visas are not current.

Opportunity Costs: An Unseen Economic Deterioration

These extensive waiting periods translate into untapped reservoirs of scientific ingenuity, medical discoveries, and overall socio-economic upliftment. The ramifications of such delays are not merely administrative but also constitute a potential forfeiture of the U.S.’s prospective economic leadership.

Conclusion: Toward an Equitable and Economically Sound Immigration System

In a rapidly evolving global landscape, the United States cannot afford an immigration system fraught with inefficiencies that impede economic growth. While the nation continues to uphold its humanitarian commitments through asylum programs, it is equally imperative to bolster economic-centric immigration policies like the EB1A and EB2-NIW visas. The urgency of reformatting the immigration machinery isn’t just a matter of ethical proportionality but a crucial economic imperative.

The U.S. immigration apparatus presents disconcerting inconsistencies and inefficiencies that could impact the country’s economic vitality. While the asylum program fulfills a crucial humanitarian role, employment-based visas, particularly EB1A and EB2-NIW, align predominantly with national economic imperatives. The protracted timelines for work and travel authorizations significantly inhibit the optimal utilization of the intellectual capital these categories can offer. Therefore, the expeditious reformation of the immigration system is not merely a question of equitable treatment but a pressing economic necessity. Such systemic enhancements will invigorate a more resilient and dynamic American economy to the advantage of both current and future citizenry.

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