December 18, 2013

On Immigration Policy, Deportation Relief Seen As More Important Than Citizenship

4. Legal Immigration in the U.S.

In 2012, the U.S. admitted more than a million immigrants through its legal permanent residence program and granted temporary visas to an additional 3 million foreign workers and their families. By far, Hispanics and Asian Americans make up the largest groups of these immigrants (Department of Homeland Security, 2012).

The two Pew Research surveys asked Hispanics and Asian-American respondents about their views of the U.S. immigration system, their experiences with it, and whether the system is working well or needs to be overhauled. The surveys also asked respondents about legal immigration and its impacts on the U.S. and its economy. Generally, Hispanics and Asian Americans express positive attitudes about the current level of U.S. legal immigration and the effect it has on the nation. However, many in each group say the current immigration system needs to be “completely rebuilt” or needs “major changes.”

Views of U.S. Legal Immigration

Views of the Current Level of Legal ImmigrationWhen asked if legal immigration into the U.S. should be increased, decreased or kept at its current level, 40% of Hispanics and 43% of Asian Americans say legal immigration levels should be increased. An additional 37% of Hispanics and 39% of Asian Americans say legal immigration should be kept at its current level. Small shares of both Hispanics and Asian Americans say the current level of legal immigration should be decreased—19% and 12%, respectively.

Immigrant Latinos and Latinos born in the U.S. showed similar preferences for maintaining the current level of legal immigration to the U.S.—40% and 34%, respectively. Among Latinos, similar shares of immigrants and the native born also say that present levels of legal immigration should be either increased (41% and 40%, respectively) or decreased (15% and 22%, respectively).

Some 44% of Asian-American immigrants say the level of legal immigration to the U.S. should be increased, 35% say it should be kept at its current level and 14% say it should be decreased. Among the native born, 40% say legal immigration should be increased, 48% say it should be kept at its current level and 6% say it should be decreased.

Effect of Legal Immigration

Effect of Legal Immigration on the U.S.When asked about the impact of legal immigration on the U.S., both Hispanics and Asian Americans express positive views. Among Hispanics, about six-in-ten (59%) say legal immigration has a positive effect on the U.S. About seven-in-ten (69%) Asian Americans say the same.

Among Hispanics, views of the impact of legal immigration on the country differ significantly by a respondent’s nativity. Seven-in-ten (70%) foreign-born Hispanics say the impact of legal immigration on the U.S. is positive. By comparison, about half (48%) of Hispanics who were born in the U.S. say the effect of legal immigration on the U.S. has been positive.

Among Asian Americans, there are no statistically significant differences by nativity on this question. Overall, 68% of the foreign born and 69% of the native born say legal immigration to the U.S. has a positive effect on the country.

Effect of Increasing Temporary Work Visas on the U.S. Economy

The surveys also explored the views of Hispanics and Asian Americans on what effect increasing the number of work visas for highly skilled immigrants and immigrants working in agriculture and food industries would have on the U.S. economy. Overall, both groups say that increasing both types of work visas would help the U.S. economy.

About eight-in-ten (82%) Latino respondents say that increasing the number of visas for temporary workers in the agriculture and food industry would help the U.S. economy—57% say it would help “a great deal” and 25% say it would help “some.” Immigrant Latinos are more positive on their evaluation of the impact of increasing this type of work visa than their U.S.-born counterparts—67% of Latino immigrants believe doing this would help the U.S. economy a great deal; just 46% of native-born Hispanics say the same.

Having More Low-Skilled Immigrants Would Help the U.S. EconomyAmong Asian Americans, 73% say that increasing the number of visas for agriculture and food industry workers would help the U.S. economy a great deal (30%) or some (43%). However, Asian Americans are about half as likely as Hispanics to say the impact of increasing this type of work visa would do a great deal of good for the U.S. economy (30% vs. 57%).

As with Hispanics, immigrant Asian Americans are more positive on their evaluation of the impact of these work permits than are native-born Asian Americans—33% of immigrants say the impact would help the U.S. economy a great deal, compared with 23% of the native born who say the same.

When asked about the effect that increasing the number of temporary work permits for high-skilled workers would have on the U.S. economy, large shares of both groups say the effect would help the economy. About eight-in-ten (80%) Latinos say that increasing the number of visas for temporary high-skilled workers would help the U.S. economy a great deal (52%) or some (28%). Immigrant Latinos are more positive on their evaluation of the impact of increasing this type of temporary work permit than their U.S.-born counterparts—60% of Hispanic immigrants believe it would help the economy a great deal, compared with 43% of native-born Hispanics.

Having More High-Skilled Immigrants Would Help the U.S. EconomyAmong Asian Americans, 80% say that increasing the number of visas for highly skilled workers would help the U.S. economy either a great deal (47%) or some (34%). Asian Americans who are themselves immigrants are more positive than native-born Asian Americans on their evaluation of the impact of these work permits—51% of immigrants say “a great deal,” compared with 35% of the native born.

Asian Americans are 17 percentage points more likely to say the U.S. economy would benefit a great deal from increasing the number of temporary visas for high-skilled workers than from increasing the number of temporary visas for agriculture or food service workers. Half (47%) of Asian Americans say more high-skilled immigration would help U.S. economy a great deal. By comparison, only three-in-ten (30%) Asian Americans say the same about increasing the number of temporary agriculture and food service workers.

Experience with and Ratings of the U.S. Immigration System

Knowledge of the U.S. Immigration SystemA person might come in contact with the U.S. immigration system in several ways. Foreign nationals use the system to gain entry to the U.S. through a number of temporary visa programs and may later use the system to acquire permanent resident status. Legal immigrants may use the system to renew their resident’s card and may also sponsor a close relative to immigrate into the U.S. Americans may also come in contact with the system by sponsoring a foreign national either to come work in the U.S. (as an employee) or to migrate to the U.S. (as a spouse or other immediate relative).

Large majorities of both Hispanics (84%) and Asian Americans (86%) say they have some knowledge regarding the U.S. immigration system. However, the self-reported level of knowledge among these two groups varies significantly—34% of Asian Americans say they know “a lot” about the system, while only 23% of Hispanics say the same.

Foreign-born Asian Americans are significantly more likely than their native-born counterparts to say they knew a lot about the U.S. immigration system—41% vs. 13%. In addition, 24% of native-born Asian Americans and 9% of the foreign born say they know “nothing at all” about the immigration system.

Among Hispanics, there was no difference between nativity groups regarding their reported knowledge of the U.S. immigration system. About six-in-ten Latinos, immigrant or native born, say they know “a little” about the immigration system, and about a quarter say they know a lot about the system.

Personal or Family Experience with U.S. Immigration SystemWhen asked about personal experience with the U.S. immigration system, Asian Americans were more likely than Hispanics to say they themselves or a member of their family have used its services. About seven-in-ten (69%) Asian Americans say this, while among Hispanic respondents, only 45% say the same. Differences between Hispanics and Asian Americans may reflect the different nativity makeup of each group—three-quarters (74%) of Asian-American adults are immigrants, while about half (51%) of Hispanic adults are immigrants.

Findings also vary by nativity. Immigrant Hispanics are more likely than Hispanics who are native born (57% vs. 33%) to say they or family members have personal experience using the U.S. immigration system.

Among Asian Americans, 62% of the native born and 72% of the foreign born say they themselves or a family member have personal experience using the services of the U.S. immigration system. This difference is not statistically significant.

Overall, 59% of Asian Americans say they themselves or a family member had been to a U.S. immigration office or had an in-person interview with employees of the U.S. immigration system in the past. A smaller share of Hispanics (38%) say the same.

View of the U.S. Immigration SystemThe surveys also explored whether or not Hispanics and Asian Americans thought the U.S. immigration system was in need of reform, regardless of whether they had much knowledge of the U.S. immigration system.

Six-in-ten (62%) Latinos say the U.S. immigration system either “needs to be completely rebuilt” (23%) or is in need of “major changes” (39%). Conversely, only about a third of Latinos (34%) say the system “works pretty well and needs only minor changes.” Interestingly, native-born Latinos are more likely than Latino immigrants to say the U.S. immigration system needs to be completely rebuilt or is in need of major changes—70% vs. 54%.

The Hispanic survey also finds experience with the U.S. immigration system is not related to Hispanics’ views of whether U.S. immigration system needs changes. Among Hispanics who have had personal or family experience with the immigration system, 60% say the system needs to be completely rebuilt or needs major changes. Among Latinos who have no experience with the U.S. immigration system, a similar share (64%) says the same.

Asian Americans’ attitudes on the need for reform of the U.S. immigration system are split—47% say the system needs to be rebuilt or needs major changes, while 45% say it needs only minor changes. However, 56% of native-born Asian Americans say that the system needs to be completely rebuilt or needs major changes, compared with a plurality (44%) of foreign-born Asian Americans who say the same.

Just as with Latinos, Asian Americans’ assessments of the U.S. immigration system do not depend on experience with the system. Among Asian Americans who have interacted with the system, 51% say the system needs to be completely rebuilt or needs major changes. Among Asian Americans who have not interacted with the system, 40% say the same.

Although Hispanics are more likely than Asian Americans to say that the U.S. immigration system needs to be completely rebuilt or needs major changes, they are also more likely than Asian Americans to say that specific parts of the system—to obtain visas or get a green card for example—work “very well.”

Evaluation of Specific Aspects of the U.S. Immigration SystemWhen it comes to getting family reunification visas, 31% of Hispanics say the U.S. immigration system works very well. By comparison, just 21% of Asian Americans say the same.

Similarly, Hispanics are more likely than Asian Americans to say the system for getting visas for high-skilled jobs works very well—36% vs. 27%. And when it comes to applying for legal permanent residency, 35% of Hispanics say the system works very well, compared with 19% of Asian Americans who say the same. Finally, the surveys find that 37% of Hispanics compared with 24% of Asian Americans say the system works very well for getting work visas for international students who want to stay and work in the U.S. after they complete their degrees.

Immigrant Latinos are more likely than U.S.-born Latinos to say these specific processes work very well. Significant shares of foreign-born Hispanics ranging from 43% to 49% say each one of the aspects of the legal immigration system asked about works very well. This compares with smaller shares of native-born Hispanics who say the same (between 17% and 28% for each of these aspects).

Just as with Hispanics, foreign-born Asian Americans are more likely than their native-born counterparts to say these specific parts of the immigration system in the U.S. work very well.