The Growing Connection Between Temporary and Permanent Immigration Systems
This report examines the connections between the United States’ temporary and permanent systems of admission to the United States. It describes the goals and structure of each system, discusses the relationship between immigrant and nonimmigrant admission flows, and describes the critical data gaps that impede understanding of the underlying realities of immigration to the United States.
The law attempts to keep temporary and permanent systems separate by requiring temporary visa applicants to demonstrate that they do not intend to abandon their countries of origin and remain permanently in the United States. The report illustrates, however, that an expanding number of temporary visas now act as a “natural funnel into permanent immigration” as a result of recent legislative changes that exempt certain categories of temporary visa applicants from proving their intent to return to their home country. According to the report, increasing reliance on these temporary visas to compensate for the lack of flexibility in the permanent immigration system—especially in the area of labor markets, where American employers are meeting the growing demand for foreign workers through temporary migration routes that are faster, more efficient, and more predictable than options offered through the permanent system—has led to the emergence of a new transitional system of admissions that is neither permanent nor temporary.
Citing the growing trend toward adjustment of status as the dominant route to permanent immigration, the author stresses the importance of grounding policy decisions on a firm understanding of the characteristics and evolution of the temporary immigration system. She concludes by articulating the need to address the lack of high-quality data that currently limits sound analysis of how many and what types of nonimmigrants become permanent immigrants, and how long it takes them to do so.