Thus, amid the complex workings of the 1965 preference system, the main outcome was that about 80 percent of the numerical limits were allocated to family members, mostly U.S. citizens; the rest went primarily to those with desirable job skills and their dependents. 7 A major feature of the 1965 reforms was that the number of immediate relatives of U.S. citizens was "uncapped" and not subject to numerical limits. In 1965, few policymakers foresaw that this provision would increase immigration, particularly from developing countries.

One of the unintended consequences of the 1965 legislation was that, in its wake, the labor market skills of successive groups of new immigrants (as measured by wages and education) gradually declined relative to those of native-born workers. The countries favored by the old 1924 national-quota system had become increasingly prosperous over time, and, with that prosperity, their citizens had become better educated and more skilled. In the 1950s, three of the top five sending countries of immigrants to the United States were in Europe—Germany, the United Kingdom, and Italy (the second was Canada and the fifth was Mexico). By contrast, the two European countries in the top 10 in the 1990s have been Poland and Ireland—and Ireland only in the single year 1994, because of a special provision favoring Ireland in the Immigration Act of 1990.8 Instead, Mexico has risen to the head of the list of sending countries, followed by the Philippines, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, and China; the introduction of the 1965 rules has seen a dramatic increase in other Asian immigration. These countries are much less prosperous than those favored by the old national-origin system. Not surprisingly, their immigrants tend also to be less educated and less skilled, although a large number of professionals have come from Asia. This shift in major sending countries brought about by the 1965 legislation toward those of lesser economic development continues to have a major effect on the composition of U.S. immigration.

The 1980s and 1990s witnessed four major pieces of new legislation. Before 1980, the admission and resettlement of refugees had been governed by several pieces of legislation, including laws dealing with such special groups as Indochinese refugees. Refugees had been admitted to the United States with the humanitarian goal of offering protection to those fleeing persecution. The Refugee Act of 1980 modernized refugee policy and provided a systematic way of deciding who is a refugee. It also established a program for settling and assisting

7  

Refugees are admitted under separate rules, and they may convert their status to permanent residence after arrival in the United States. If refugees are counted along with legal immigrants, then about 74 percent of all immigrants are family preference immigrants.

8  

If refugees and legal immigrants entering the United States from the nations of the former Soviet Union are counted together, then this group would also rank as one of the top 10 sending countries in the 1990s.



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