Don’t let immigration reform split Asian America apart

Photo: David Ayala.

Photo: David Ayala.

Thanks in large part to the past efforts of European American ethnic lobbies, family unification has long been at the top of the US immigration agenda. The latest immigration reform proposals being discussed in the US Congress, however, pit family reunification visas against visas for highly skilled workers. In order to keep immigration at levels that are palatable for some on the right, the Senate is considering cutting visas for extended family members but increasing visas for special classes of workers. This would be a move toward an Australian- or Canadian-style “points” system for allocating visas by skills.

How should Asian Americans feel about this? Contrary to stereotypes, Asian Americans occupy both ends of the skill/income distribution. Many Asian immigrants came here on skills-based visas. Some came here for college or graduate school and stayed, while others came here directly from other countries to work in technical fields. However, many other Asian Americans came via family reunification visas. As The Hill reports:

Asian immigrants are heavy users of family visas. By November 2012, Asians made up about 40 percent of those waiting for a family visa, according to a State Department study. Mainland China, the Philippines, South Korea and Vietnam rank among the top countries that have immigrants waiting for family visas as siblings of U.S. citizens — the category that will be ended under the Senate bill.

On the one hand, highly skilled scientists, engineers, and other workers from Asia will have more opportunities to come to the US to work and innovate. That is undoubtedly a good thing. On the other hand, other Asian Americans would continue to be separated from their brothers, sisters, and adult married children, with no pathway for them to come to live in the US legally unless they had these skills that are highly in demand.

More visas for highly skilled workers should not come at the expense of family reunification visas. Both types of immigrants contribute to the American economy and to the well-being of the American people in different ways. We shouldn’t let this either-or proposition split the already fragile Asian American coalition apart.

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