Immigration Is Not Made Equal for Everyone

Getting into the United States is harder for Latin American immigrants, a new study finds.
Author:
Publish date:
(Photo: Jeff Nelson/Flickr)

(Photo: Jeff Nelson/Flickr)

Back in June, the Pew Research Center reported that, for the first time in almost two decades, United States-born Latinos are contributing more to U.S. job growth than Hispanic immigrants. That’s mostly due to declining immigration rates, the Pew report determined. One recent study takes the Pew findings a step further, showing that those declining Latino immigration rates are in part a result of a bias—both structural and implicit—against those wanting to come work in the U.S.

Research out of MIT and Brown University found that only 67 percent of labor certification applications—a crucial first step in receiving an employment-based green card—from Latin Americans are granted by the U.S. Department of Labor. Asian and Canadian immigrants, for comparison, have a 91 and 90 percent success rate, respectively.

Research out of MIT and Brown University found that only 67 percent of labor certification applications—a crucial first step in receiving an employment-based green card—from Latin Americans are granted by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Published in American Sociological Review, the study accounted for variations in salary, position, employer characteristics, and visa history across all groups. Using these prerequisites proves that while there are just as many qualified workers in Latin America as other countries, their applications are being approved one-fourth as often.

“This [study] is something that has a lot of implications in immigration, but also in the way employment evaluation works in a lot of different areas. Applications are based on limited information,” says Dr. Ben A. Rissing, who teaches sociology at Brown University and co-authored the paper.

Under the Immigration Act of 1990, the U.S. Department of Labor, which reviews these applications, is instructed to not take country-of-origin data into account. But the demographic information of each potential immigrant is available on his or her application, so unconscious bias might still be at play.

The study took into account roughly 198,000 labor-certification requests from 190 countries filed between June 2008 and September 2011. Most requests were immigrants applying for work in information technology, advanced manufacturing, education, or finance.

It isn’t all bad news, though; researchers might have also discovered a solution. They found that when the U.S government conducted an audit of the application—that is, a more thorough objective evaluation—the pattern of “regional inconsistency” became negligible.

“We talked to workers on the non-audited team and individuals who were part of the audit team,” Rissing adds. “For the people in the audit group, when we asked about characteristics of the applicant, the country of citizenship had nothing to do with their decision—they had all the other material.”

Of course, transforming the standard screening process to mirror the thoroughness of an audit would require significant time, money, and effort. An easier solution, the researchers note, might be to simply hide the applicant’s country of origin.

Related