The Future Flow of Legal Immigration to the United States

PEMD-88-7: Published: Jan 8, 1988. Publicly Released: Jan 8, 1988.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO developed projections concerning future legal immigration using information from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the Bureau of the Census to: (1) describe past legal immigration flows; (2) forecast future legal immigration flows; (3) improve understanding of the immigration process concerning immediate relatives of U.S. citizens exempt from the annual numerical limits; and (4) assess the effect of the emigration of legal immigrants on net immigration.

GAO found that the Immigration Reform and Control Act created three time-limited categories of legal immigrants considered to be de facto permanent U.S. residents, including: (1) aliens who lived continuously and illegally in the United States prior to January 1, 1982, and who could apply for legal status; (2) aliens who performed certain agricultural services during the last 3 years; and (3) Cuban and Haitian refugees who continuously resided in the United States prior to January 1, 1982. GAO also found that from 1972 to 1985: (1) annual legal immigration increased from 384,000 to 570,000; (2) the number of numerically limited immigrants stayed the same; (3) exempt-immediate-relative immigration increased steadily; and (4) the immigration of refugees varied according to influence from political events. GAO projections indicated that: (1) annual immigration should moderately increase from 546,190 to 605,600 from 1986 to 1990 because of steady increases in exempt-immediate-relative immigrants; and (2) there will not be a large increase in future chain migration of exempt-immediate-relative immigrants. GAO noted that, since there was no comprehensive approach to counting emigrants or uniformity in developing net immigration measurements, the number of permanent resident aliens who later emigrated was unknown.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress is not willing to allocate funds at this time for INS to develop and implement a methodology for estimating net immigration.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should direct the Commissioner, INS, to consult with the Director of the Bureau of the Census to develop and implement a uniform methodology for estimating net immigration to the United States by adequately accounting for the emigration of non-U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens. This measure of the net immigration should reflect the policy objectives and requirements of the Immigration Reform and Control Act and other immigration laws.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice


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