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Drop in Undocumented Population May Be Good for Immigration Reform

As of January 2009, there were 10,750,000 undocumented aliens in the U.S., down from 11.6 million a year earlier, according to the Office of Immigration Statistics of the Department of Homeland Security.

The drop which continues a trend that started two years ago could make the debate on comprehensive immigration reform less contentious.

The top ten source countries in the report were Mexico – 6,650,000; El Salvador – 530,000; Guatemala – 480,000; Honduras – 320,000; Philippines – 270,000; India – 200,000; Korea – 200,000; Ecuador – 170,000; Brazil – 150,000; and China – 120,000.

The above countries accounted for 85% of the entire undocumented population.

The figures were derived by subtracting the number of legally resident population (20,470,000) from the total foreign-born population living in the U.S. (31,220,000) on January 1, 2009. The data on the legally resident population came from the Department of Homeland Security while the source of the estimated foreign-born population was the American Community survey of the U.S. Census Bureau.

Most of the unauthorized population entered the U.S. without inspection or were admitted temporarily and overstayed. Those that applied for adjustment of status under Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act were counted as unauthorized until they become lawful permanent residents.

Section 245 (i) allows an undocumented alien in the U.S. to apply for adjustment of status provided he/she is the beneficiary of a family or employment-based petition that was filed on or before April 30, 2001 and was physically present in the U.S. on December 21, 2000.

The undocumented aliens that were included in the count entered the U.S. beginning in the 1980s. The estimated entries were as follows: 19% or 2.05 million in the 1980s, 44% or 4.75 million in the 1990s; 28% or 3.08 million in 2000 to 2004; and 8% or 910,000 between 2005 to 2008.

1980 was the starting point for the estimates because the report assumed that foreign-born residents who had entered prior to 1982 were eligible to adjust status under the amnesty provision of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Also, the Registry provision of the Act allows persons who have been in the U.S. since January 1, 1972 to apply for a green card.

The decrease in the unauthorized population is attributed to the economic downturn and increased law enforcement. Immigration enforcement was stepped up in the middle of 2007 when the Bush administration conducted more high profile raids and gave the power to enforce immigration laws to some state and local police departments.

Some immigrant advocates believe that the population drop will make the passage of the comprehensive immigration reform bill easier. They contend that with a smaller undocumented population, the proposed legalization program will be more manageable. It would also reduce the pressure on enforcement.

New Report Shows A Very Long Wait for Green Card

According to a recent report released by the U.S. Department of State, the number of family-based applicants on the waiting list for immigrant visa numbers as of November 2009 was 3,369,455 while the number of employment-based applicants was 130,509.

These figures include the principal applicants or petition beneficiaries as well as their spouses and children entitled to derivative status. They do not include immediate relatives (spouse, minor unmarried children and parents of U.S. citizens) who are exempted from the numerical limitation.

Not included in the figures are applicants for adjustment of status. They also do not include those who failed to respond within a year to the visa application letter of the National Visa Center notifying them of the availability of visa numbers within a reasonable time. These cases are considered inactive.

The above figures indicate that the wait for obtaining permanent resident status is going to be long in most of the visa preferences. In some categories, the wait for applicants form the Philippines, India, China and Mexico will be decades.

U.S. immigration laws set an annual worldwide limit as well as a per county limit of immigrant visas issued. There is also a limit on each preference category. During the fiscal year 2010 which runs from October 1, 2009 through September 30, 2010, visas issued are no more than 226,000 in the family-sponsored preferences and approximately 150,000 in the employment-based preferences. The per country limit is approximately 26,260.

The top five countries with the highest number of waiting list registrants are as follows: Mexico – 1,178,761; Philippines – 482,694; China – 197,559; India – 194,954; and Vietnam – 184,692

The number of registrants under the family-based preferences (F) are broken down as follows: F-1 (unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens) – 245,516; F2A (spouses and children of permanent residents) -324,864; F2B (adult sons and daughters of permanent residents) – 517,898; F3 (married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens) -553,280; and F4 (brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens) 1,727,897.

The numbers of registrants under the employment-based preferences (EB) are: EB1 (priority workers) – 3,601; EB2 (advanced degree professionals/persons of exceptional ability) – 6,296; EB3 (skilled workers) – 103, 448; EB3 (other workers) 16,311; EB4 (special immigrants) 529 and EB5 (employment creation) – 325.

Of the F1 registrants, Mexico ranks first with 63,628 followed by the Philippines with 35,789. The numbers may increase because of the automatic conversion of pending F2B into F1 upon the naturalization of the petitioner. The automatic conversion may be avoided by availing of opt-out provision under the Child Status Protection Act. Many Filipinos have taken advantage of this law by opting to remain under F-2B in order to avoid the longer wait under F1.

Mexico also ranks first in the F2A, F2B and F4 while the Philippines ranks first in the F-3 preference.

In the employment-based categories, the Philippines ranks first with 47,470 followed by India – 24,365; China – 13,649; South Korea – 7,725 and Mexico – 4,728. As mentioned above, these figures do not include the number of adjustment of status applicants. The report notes that 90% of all employment-based preference immigrants are currently being processed as adjustment of status cases at the USCIS offices.

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