Can deported immigrants return to America?

Country Profiles Migration: Data - History - Politics

Casey Tran

Casey Tran holds a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Alberta, Canada, and a Masters degree in Immigration and Settlement Studies from Ryerson University in Toronto. She was also a visiting student at the Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies (IMIS) at the University of Osnabrück.

The subject of immigration is controversial in the USA. Since the terrorist attacks in 2001 at the latest, it has been increasingly linked to discussions about the country's internal security. This was true both under former President Barack Obama and under his successor Donald Trump, who has pursued a restrictive migration policy since taking office in January 2017.

Young migrant women carry a banner of the campaign "A day without migrants" on May 1st, New York on May 1st, 2017. (& copy picture-alliance, ZUMA Press)

Overview of immigration to the United States

The United States has the largest immigrant population in the world [1] and continues to maintain its immigrant status. In 2015, there were an estimated 43.3 million people in the United States who were not citizens of the United States at the time of their birth (foreign born) [2] - this includes naturalized persons, permanent residents, temporary immigrants, humanitarian migrants and migrants who are in the United States without a permit. [3] According to the US Census Bureau, one in five US residents will belong to this population group by 2060. [4]

According to the Department of Homeland Security, 1,051,031 people were granted permanent residency in the United States in 2015. [5] Permanent residence permits can be obtained in two ways: Either directly upon entry or by changing the residence status of people who are already in the USA. Figure 1 shows the development of the issuance of permanent residence permits between 2006 and 2015.

Figure 1: Individuals who were granted permanent residency in the United States ( Graphic for download) License: cc by-nc-nd / 3.0 / de / (bpb)
Foreigners who received permanent residence permits in 2015 came mainly from Asia (40 percent), North America [6] (35 percent) and Africa (10 percent). The main country of birth was Mexico, followed by China, India, the Philippines and Cuba (see Figure 2). [7]

Most of those who were granted permanent residency in 2015 lived in California (209,568). [8] Family reunification is the main reason for issuing permanent residence permits. This applies both to direct relatives of US citizens (approx. 40 percent) and to family members who receive a visa as part of the preference system (20 percent). Although the admission of refugees accounted for only 11 percent of the permanent residence permits issued in 2015, the figure is still relevant as it was the fourth most important admission category after residence permits for economic reasons (14 percent) (see Figure 3).

Figure 2: 10 main countries of birth of people who were granted permanent residency in the USA in 2015 ( Graphic for download) License: cc by-nc-nd / 3.0 / de / (bpb)
Figure 3: U.S. permanent residence permits issued in 2015 by reason for issue ( Graphic for download) License: cc by-nc-nd / 3.0 / de / (bpb)

Labor migration

The United States has a long history of employing immigrant workers, especially skilled workers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics, the foreign-born workforce comprised 27 million people in 2016, 17 percent of the total workforce in the U.S. [9] While immigrants do not make up the majority of the workforce in any sector, there are still some sectors that are more dependent on migrant workers than others. According to the research institute Pew Research Center, sectors such as private households, the textile, clothing and leather industries, and agriculture have the largest proportions of immigrant workers. [10]

To attract skilled foreign workers, the Obama administration created a program to make visas easier for foreigners investing in the United States or pursuing post-secondary education (e.g. college or university) in science, technology, engineering, and math . [11] In 2016, Obama pushed a "start-up visa" aimed at immigrant entrepreneurs and intended to promote economic development and job creation in the United States. [12]

Before 2014, the Obama administration had already extended the rights of those in possession of a visa for temporary employment in the USA (H1-B visa). They were given more flexibility to return to their country of origin and change jobs; their spouses have also been given opportunities to obtain work permits and access to a green card has been made easier. For some immigrants this was and is welcome news. Opponents of the H1-B visa program criticized that it was used by employers to employ cheap labor at the expense of American job prospects and at the expense of wages [13], as most of the visas issued were given to companies that perform certain tasks or Outsource entire business areas to external service providers. [14]

In April 2017, President Obama's successor, Donald Trump, signed the presidential decree "Buy American and Hire American" [15] to address the criticism he shared about the H1-B visa. This decree reforms the existing lottery system [16] for issuing H1-B visas in favor of issuing visas to highly skilled and highly paid workers. [17] Trump had already started the presidential campaign with the promise to restore American jobs that had been lost due to global outsourcing. His presidential decree also stipulated that American companies should be given preference when awarding public contracts. [18]

On August 2, 2017, Trump announced his support for the RAISE Act (Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act), a bill by Republican Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue. The draft envisages halving legal immigration to the USA (by limiting family reunification) over a period of ten years and establishing a performance-based immigration system that favors highly skilled immigrants, similar to the systems in Australia and Canada. [19] While attracting high-skilled workers is a priority, certain industries, such as agriculture, depend on low-skilled workers. The number of accepted applications for the temporary immigration of agricultural workers (H-2A visas) rose by 36 percent in 2017 compared to the previous year and clearly shows the greater dependence of farmers on foreign workers. [20] An estimated 48 to 70 percent of the agricultural workforce in California are irregular migrants. [21]

Comprehensive immigration reform and the increasing link between security policy considerations and immigration policy

Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, unauthorized entry has increasingly been classified as a national security risk. Political decision-makers have paid more attention to border security and management and the public is less and less willing to accept irregular immigration. In 2015, an estimated 11 million irregular immigrants were living in the United States. [22]

Over the past decade, the US has fought for a comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) that will not only increase border protection, but also give irregular immigrants opportunities to legalize their stay. It is also intended to create a framework to better coordinate the employment of foreign workers with the current and future needs of the labor market. [23] Although the goals of immigration reform are clear, the road to such reform is not straightforward given that the last major related act, the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), was passed more than three decades ago in 1986. [24] Several immigration laws that have been passed since then have primarily served to criminalize immigrants, such as the Immigration Act of 1990, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, and the U.S Patriot Act of 2001. [25]

Although Obama succeeded in being re-elected to the presidency for a second term in November 2012, two attempts to reform the immigration system failed. One attempt was the bipartisan attempt to enforce Bill S.744, known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. This bill was introduced by the Gang of Eight, a group of four Democratic and four Republican Senate members. The law would have allowed irregular immigrants who entered the United States before 2012 to remain in the country without fear of deportation under certain conditions (including impunity, proof of employment, tax repayment). After ten years they would have received a green card and thus a permanent right of residence and after a further three years they could apply for US citizenship. [26] As part of the "DREAM Act" (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act), young people - also known as DREAMers - were given the opportunity to acquire a green card after five years and become US citizens shortly afterwards. Agricultural workers would still be entitled to a green card after five years, but would not have been given the opportunity to acquire US citizenship immediately afterwards. [27] The Gang of Eight bill was passed by the Senate in June 2013, but was not negotiated in the House of Representatives, the second chamber of Congress, which dashed hopes for immigration reform. [28]