US losing immigrant talent with longest backlogs for families

Written by Thomas Huddleston, MIPEX Research Coordinator, Co-author and Policy Analyst, Migration Policy Group


Without legal procedural time limits for family reunion, the United States has created one of the longest backlogs of most developed countries of immigration.

This week, Colorlines magazine’s excellent graphics help you picture just how long American families have to wait for their immigrant loved ones to join them in the US. For some, the wait is up to 20 years because the visa demand far outweighs the availability. Family and employment-based legal immigration that are tied to numerical ceilings that remain unchanged since 1990.  These ceilings are further affected by limits on the percentage of immigrants that may come from any given country.

MIPEX III found that the integration of immigrant families in the US is seriously undermined by administrative obstacles like these backlogs, limited visas, and high fees. Immigrants to Canada and Australia also face long waits and backlogs, according to MIPEX data.

However most countries of immigration in Europe impose legal procedural time limits for family reunion, which they also agreed in European Union law. They legally exist in most MIPEX countries (in blue), with some set at 6 months or less (in pink):

The OECD, using its now famous PISA study for children, concluded that every extra year spent waiting outside the country has a negative impact on how well they learn the language and participate in society. For that reason, the OECD concludes that family reunification needs to occur as early as possible in order to speed up integration.

Our US MIPEX partner–the Immigration Policy Center–provides more information on the efforts to reduce these backlogs and on the real benefits of family reunion for education, employment, and entrepreneurshipTheir MIPEX Fact Sheet spells out the link between the two:

For a country that has long prided itself on family values, this assessment of U.S. family reunification principles is an important reality check for lawmakers. The MIPEX data confirms a long-standing critique by immigration experts that current U.S. immigration laws place undue burdens on legal immigrants—permanent and temporary—who seek to live in the United States with their families. Leaving the compelling humanitarian arguments for family reunification aside, as a practical matter, the U.S.’s low rank gives some quantitative support to the arguments that the U.S. is not doing all it can to recruit foreign talent. The low MIPEX score, then, offers additional evidence that the U.S. is losing its competitive edge. Problems with family reunification have been cited as one of the key issues discouraging foreign talent from immigrating to the United States.