limit is flexible in the sense that it may be higher in a given fiscal year if some of the preference visas went unused in the previous year. It is also not an absolute limit, in that the number of immigrants in a given year can exceed the cap because some categories of immigrants have no numerical limits—spouses, minor children, and parents of adult U.S. citizens; children born abroad to legal permanent residents; refugees and asylees who are adjusting their status to permanent resident; and a few other groups such as Amerasians and persons eligible for legalization under IRCA.

Numerically limited immigration consists of two broad categories with separate limits—family-sponsored preferences and employment-based preferences. These are subdivided into groups, each of which is allotted a certain number of visas based on immigration levels in the previous years. Table 2.3 gives the categories of admission with their limits and numbers of admissions for 1995. Admissions for a particular category include dependents of immigrants admitted under that classification, where applicable. Unused visas in higher preference subgroups may be reallocated to lower preference subgroups within that same category. Small differences between the numerical limit and the number of actual immigrant admissions may also occur because immigrants who are granted visas have four months to use them and may not decide to enter the United States until the following year.

In addition to the limits on overall numbers, there is a provision requiring that no more than 7 percent of family or employment preferences go to immigrants from any one country. Because of uneven demand within the categories, visas in one country may go unused while applicants from other countries are denied visas because their country's limit has been reached.18

Most recent immigrants were admitted on the basis of family ties to persons living in the United States. In 1995, relatives accounted for almost two-thirds of total admissions. Spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens made up 31 percent of total admissions. Those admitted under employment-based preferences and refugees accounted for most of the remainder of total admissions: 12 percent and 16 percent, respectively. Even among employment-based admissions, family ties are important: as can be seen in Table 2.4, over half of immigrants admitted in 1995 on employment-preference visas were spouses or children of those entering for employment purposes.

Because relatives of U.S. citizens account for such a large fraction of current immigration, that group would be affected by any sharp decrease in the number of immigrants admitted into the United States. Although admission of close rela-

18  

This rule, however, has exceptions—special provisions exempt a large portion of the second-family-preference visas allocated to spouses and children of permanent residents from the per-country limit to help to reduce a large backlog in applications for these visas from some countries, for example Mexico.



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