In the debate over immigration reform, the figure of 11 million is frequently tossed around. Many sources say that there the estimated number of undocumented immigrants is in that ballpark.
It should be pointed out, however, that there is another large group of immigrants that struggles greatly under the current system. Hundreds of thousands of people initially come to the U.S. from other countries on student visas.
The problem is that there are so few work visas available to help these students stay in the U.S. when they finish their studies.
Consider the figures for just one recent year. In 2010, there were more than 668,500 F-1 student visas granted. But the number of H-1B work visas that were granted was less than 77,000 — and only a little over one-third of those went to F-1 students.
In other words, making an adjustment of status from a student visa to a work visa isn’t exactly like winning the lottery. But it is far from a standard progression either for tens of thousands of immigrants.
Even if someone is able to get a work permit, a green card does not always follow. The U.S. uses a quota-based system for green cards, and the overall number is strictly limited.
There is also an arbitrary limit of 10,000 green cards from any one country. It is arbitrary because immigrants from India and other populous countries end up trying to squeeze though an increasingly long funnel. Many of them end up leaving the U.S., taking valuable skills with them that could have benefited the American economy as a whole.
This rationale for immigration reform is too often overlooked amid the Congressional hand-wringing over a path to citizenship for undocumented people.
Source: Minnesota Daily, “Reforming the American Dream,” Victor C. Wu, September 10, 2013