Thursday, February 20, 2014

Bias in Employment-Based Visas

By law, the US Department of State is permitted to issue roughly 140,000 employment-based visas. With few considerations, there seems to be a bias, or preference, for workers from certain regions. It’s not necessarily based on education proficiencies as measured by PISA for most developed and developing countries, nor a level of foreign aid to support country development and security. The latter could be a measure of our friendliness with the countries in that region.

I developed an index to relate these factors with the actual percentage of employment visas issued to citizens in those regions.
% Employment Visas Issued
Average World Ranking in Education*
Average Foreign Aid Budgeted
Backlog Date for Employment Visas (earliest)

Composite Index of Visa Bias or Preference
(% Visas/% F. Aid * (Educ’n Rank relative to US) #
Incl. below

Feb. ‘07

Incl. below

Latin/South America


Nov. ‘02



Incl. in Asia

‘* US Comparison average ranking: 20
# A high bias (or preference) shows that relative to the shown considerations, more visas are issued to those regional citizens than would be given a rational basis. This formula assumes that the Foreign Aid is based on desirability of relations with those countries and its citizens, and that employment visas would be issued to those countries with strong educational systems relative to the US’ system, i.e. the higher the education rank, the higher the relative rank to the US. A higher relative rank would promote a higher percentage of visas.
** Oceania includes Australia and New Zealand.

According to this analysis, the US prefers to see workers from Europe, Canada and Asia (including the Middle East) before our State Department is willing to issue visas to the other regions. After those three regions, we prefer citizens by almost two-times compared to those from Mexico. Africa and Oceania are at the bottom of the list. The question could then be raised as to whether this is a racial preference.
According to Title 8, Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (emphasis mine):
Sec. 202. [8 U.S.C. 1152] 

(a) Per Country Level. - 
(1) Nondiscrimination. -
(A) Except as specifically provided in paragraph (2) and in sections 101(a)(27) , 201(b)(2)(A)(i) , and 203, no person shall receive any preference or priority or be discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person's race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.
(B) 1/ Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed to limit the authority of the Secretary of State to determine the procedures for the processing of immigrant visa applications or the locations where such applications will be processed.

As far as I can tell, there has been no Congressional or Executive Branch review of the State Department’s nondiscrimination mandate. Therefore, there has been no further legal action to remedy this supposed non-problem. There have been several laws enacted and enforced regarding preferential treatment by employers for certain workers, and the request for special H-1B visas. For example, many claim that agricultural employers falsely claim they’ve sought American workers first, and yet need immigrant workers for special skills. However, the overall issuance of visas has not been audited.  Additionally my analysis is not rigorous. I’m not making the claim that there’s an intentional or systematic bias. There might be an inherent bias through the process of issuing visas caused by internal policies as to the acceptance of applications, the overall number of applications submitted to embassies, and so on. I am not able to research these factors at this time and add them to any statistical analysis.

Public policy would encourage inviting the ‘best and brightest’ from the rest of the world, while Huntington’s American Creed of liberty, equality, civil rights, etc. (see below) would encourage inviting all, regardless of race, nationality and so on as public law states. Similarly, it was expressed by Emma Lazarus’ prose for inclusion on the base of the Statue of Liberty:
 “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Thus, there’s a tension between issuing visas to those who have earned them and issuing visas to those who deserve a better chance even though their contribution may be less to the US economy.  From my analysis, the public policy emphasis on contribution to our economy seems to have overwhelmed the Creed and public law. Likewise, there seems to be a preference for those who might better fit a racial preference for direct European or Asian heritage. Indirect European heritage, as might be found in Mexico, Latin and South America and Oceania, is not sufficient to overcome the bias.

With my tendency to utilize colorblind, value- and love-based and meritocracy perspectives, I would expect all visas to be issued proportional to education levels. I would assume individual aspects, like character, personality and agreement with universal values (such as some of those in the American Creed), to be evenly distributed through all regions. With this alleged bias on the part of the State Department, I believe we are missing out on an augmentation of the colorful tapestry of American culture by including more of the relatively disadvantaged from Mexico, Latin and South America, Africa, and Oceania (but not Australia and New Zealand). 

More research is needed before anyone turns this into an Administration controversy.

Works Cited

Huntington, S. P. (2004). Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity. New York: Simon and Schuster.

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