House GOP Bill Cuts Legal Immigration By 1.4 Million Over 20 Years

The House is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a bill—the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act, the supposed GOP compromise bill. The authors claim in their bill summary that “the overall number of visas issued will not change,” yet that is simply incorrect. In fact, the proposal would reduce legal immigration at least 1.4 million over 20 years.

The bill would reduce the number of legal immigrants in five ways: 1) eliminating the diversity visa lottery, 2) ending sponsorship of married adult children of U.S. citizens, 3) ending sponsorship of siblings of U.S. citizens, 4) restricting asylum claims, and 5) indirectly by restricting overall immigration, which will lead to fewer sponsorships of spouses, minor children, and parents of naturalized citizens years later. The bill partially offsets these effects by increasing employer-sponsored immigration and by granting permanent residency to some Dreamers in the United States, but the net effect is still strongly negative.

Table 1 breaks down the cuts to legal immigration by category over the 20-year period from 2020 to 2039. The net effect is a reduction in legal immigration of 1.4 million including Dreamers or 2.1 million not counting Dreamers toward the total. This is a cut of 7 percent or 10 percent in the number of legal immigrants that would have been allowed to enter under current law.

Table 1: Difference in the number of legal immigrants

Eliminating the diversity visa lottery (#1) would reduce legal immigration by about 1 million over 2 decades; ending the sponsorship of married adult children of citizens (#2) by about 465,000, ending the sponsorship of siblings of citizens (#3) by 1.4 million; restricting asylum (#4) by about 260,000; and limiting overall immigration (#5) would indirectly reduce sponsorships of spouses, minor children, and parents of U.S. citizens by about 215,000. The bill would increase employer-sponsored immigration by 1.3 million and would provide permanent residence to about 700,000 Dreamers.

In an earlier post, we calculated the number of Dreamers likely to legalize and then receive permanent residence under the House bill. We explained that due to the exceptionally restrictive requirements in the bill, which are much more restrictive than the already quite limited DACA program, we estimated that only 698,620 would end up receiving permanent residence. We used our previous estimate of the effects of the restriction on asylum in this bill, requiring them to prove their claims at the border at a much higher standard. We estimated that it would cut the number of asylees in half, but it could be even more severe.

We used a statistical model to calculate how many fewer immediate relatives—spouses, minor children, and parents—of U.S. citizens would be sponsored if the other categories are cut.[i] Because immigrants can naturalize and marry a foreigner or sponsor their parents, they trigger increases in the immediate relative category after 5 years. We discounted the effect of Dreamers on increases in this category by 20 percent because the vast majority of them cannot sponsor their parents because their parents crossed the border illegally (some parents, who entered with legal visas, could be sponsored).

Table 2 compares the single year flows in 2019 to 2029, showing how, after just 10 years (and after the Dreamers all receive their green cards), the annual cut would be 11 percent relative to 2019.  Going forward to 2039, the annual cut would grow to 12 percent. Table 3 at the end of the post shows how the bill would affect each immigration category from 2019 to 2039. 

Table 2

It is important to note that almost all of the visa increases in the House bill would go to people already in the United States, whether Dreamers or employer-sponsored immigrants who are almost always already here in temporary worker visas. By contrast, all of the cuts to legal immigration are primarily of people outside of the United States, particularly in the family-sponsored categories and the diversity visa lottery. In other words, this legislation would do more reduce overall population growth than what these numbers suggest. 

In addition to reducing legal immigration, after 2019, the bill cancels the applications of people in the categories for married adult children and siblings of U.S. citizens who have waited in line for, in many cases, decades: nearly 3 million people. This adds unfairness to the economic harms associated with cutting immigration. 

Reducing legal opportunities to immigrate to the United States will only encourage more illegal immigration, going against one of the stated goals of the bill. Moreover, canceling the applications of legal immigrants would cause immigrants in the future to lose faith in the legal immigration system. This would further incentivize people to seek illegal avenues to come to the United States. 

At a time when U.S. population growth is at its lowest level since the Great Depression and the fertility rate has plunged to the lowest level on record, the United States needs more people, not fewer. Congress should increase the number of immigrant visas and create other opportunities that have proven to reduce illegal entry, such as more temporary work visas, allowing more people to enter the country lawfully. These approaches have proven to work, while cuts to legal immigration and a lack of legal work visas harm the U.S. economy and encourage more people to enter the country unlawfully.






[i] We used a vector autoregressive (VAR) model to estimate the effects of the cuts to legal immigration on the immediate relative category (spouses, minor children, and parents of U.S. citizens). A VAR models the relationship multiple variables of interest as they evolve together over time.  After estimating a VAR model, one can impose a shock to a variable of interest in one year and trace out how the shock impacts each variable over time, or an impulse response function (IRF). The impulse response function assumes that some shock occurs in a single year and traces out the shock’s impact over a forecast horizon.  This allows one to assess the impact of a shock to the non-immediate relative (IR) immigrant inflows on IR inflows over time, taking into account the dynamic, interrelated nature of these two variables. We delayed the effect of the cut until 6 years after the shock because the law requires at least five years residency prior to naturalization and sponsoring. Since these two variables are likely to be related to one another across time, one can compute orthogonalized IRF.  The orthogonalized IRF ensures that the shocks to each variable are independent of one another, i.e. so no feedback loop exists between each set of shocks.  To ensure that the shocks to the Non-IR category flows are independent of those to the IR category flows, orthogonalized IRFs are computed.  Additionally, each variable is expressed as its natural logarithm to account for non-stationarity in each time series. Credit to Andrew Forrester for his assistance with this model.