Key Facts About U.S. Immigration Policies and Proposed Changes

Nearly 34 million lawful immigrants live in the United States. Many live and work in the country after receiving lawful permanent residence (also known as a green card), while others receive temporary visas available to students and workers. In addition, roughly 1 million unauthorized immigrants have temporary permission to live and work in the U.S. through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status programs.

For years, proposals have sought to shift the nation’s immigration system away from its current emphasis on family reunification and employment-based migration, and toward a points-based system that prioritizes the admission of immigrants with certain education and employment qualifications. These proposals have received renewed attention under the Trump administration. Here are key details about existing U.S. immigration programs:

Family-based immigration

In fiscal 2016, 804,793 people received family-based U.S. lawful permanent residence. This program allows someone to receive a green card if they already have a spouse, child, sibling or parent living in the country with U.S. citizenship or, in some cases, a green card. Immigrants from countries with large numbers of applicants often wait for years to receive a green card because a single country can account for no more than 7% of all green cards issued annually. President Donald Trump has proposed restricting family-based green cards to only spouses and minor children. For other family members, a Senate bill would make a limited number of green cards available under a skills-based point system. Today, family-based immigration – referred to by some as “chain migration” – is the most common way people gain green cards, in recent years accounting for about 70% of the more than 1 million people who receive them annually.

Refugee admissions

The U.S. admitted 84,995 refugees in fiscal 2016, a total that declined to 53,716 in fiscal 2017 – the fewest admissions since 2007. This decline reflects a lower admissions cap. For fiscal 2018, refugee admissions have been capped at 45,000, the lowest since Congress created the modern refugee program in 1980 for those fleeing persecution in their home countries. One of Trump’s first acts as president in 2017 was to freeze refugee admissions, citing security concerns. Admissions from most countries eventually restarted, though applicants from 11 nations deemed “high risk” by the administration were admitted on a case-by-case basis. In January 2018, refugee admissions resumed for all countries.

By Jens Manuel Krogstands and Ana Gonzales-Barriera for FACT TANK
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