Saturday, December 8, 2012


The prospect of US immigration reform in 2013 is becoming increasingly clear for at least two categories of aspiring immigrants: DREAMers (a somewhat larger group than current DACA beneficiaries--as described in my last post--including mostly unauthorized immigrants who arrived in the US as minors, often from Latin America) and STEMs (a smaller group including foreign students--often from Asia--who graduate from US universities with advanced degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Although, lately, DREAMers have received more news coverage (and understandably so, considering their numbers, their activism and the compelling "humanitarian" dimension of their story), current government debates suggest that STEMs stand to benefit from equal (if not stronger) bipartisan support in gaining (perhaps even faster) access to permanent residence visas. For example, last September, House Republicans and Senate Democrats introduced very similar bills offering new green cards to 55,000 STEMs per year.

This consensus is consistent with the fact that, as the US Department of Labor has acknowledged, the US faces a serious education and workforce deficit in STEM fields, with dire consequences for global competitiveness and growth, whereas, for instance, according to the Kaufman Foundation of Entrepreneurship, the proportion of new Silicon Valley firms that had at least one key founder who was foreign-born declined from an incredibly high 52% between 1995 and 2005 to a still very high 43.9% between 2006 and 2012 (24.3% for engineering and technology firms in the country at large).

However, the Republican STEM bill, which passed the House last week (quickly following President Obama's re-election with a large share of the Hispanic vote), also included a trade-off in the form of provisions eliminating the Diversity Visa (DV) program--the reason for which Senate Democrats rejected it this week. The DV program, an annual lottery administered by the State Department, provides about 50,000 permanent residence visas to citizens of countries with traditionally low immigration to the US--especially from Africa.

On the one hand, it is true that the African diaspora in the United States (comprised mostly of Nigerians, followed by Ethiopians and Egyptians) remains small even by global standards--with other countries in Africa, and then former colonial metropoles, attracting most African migrants. On the other hand, although sub-Saharan Africa in particular is the world's poorest region and might thus be presumed less likely to supply immigrants under more selective categories than DV, its diaspora in the United States happens to be among the nation's most employed and best educated social groups (also far exceeding the higher-education rate of its European counterpart). Importantly, these migrants also play a positive role in the development of their continent. For example, according to a World Bank study, "African migrants [both high- and low-skilled] sent US$40 billion in remittances to African countries in 2010" (compared, for example, with the Obama administration's requested bilateral Africa aid 2012 budget of US$7.8 billion), and there is evidence that households receiving those remittances (especially from migrants in developed countries) tend to use them for "productive investments."

Therefore, we should hope that any 2013 immigration reform compromise limiting the diversity visa program is crafted to at least protect--if not increase--African migrant flows to the United States.


  1. I read your article first time, but I can say that you are a good writer and also, have the knowledge about immigration law, so keep writing like this and thanks for this sharing.

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  2. Thank you for your comment. And please feel free to send in any question you or anyone you know may have about US immigration law.