When it comes to green cards, some immigrants are more equal than others.
A research study conducted over 40 months shows that labor-certification applications for Asian and Canadian immigrants were approved 90.5% and 89.7% of the time, respectively. Yet those of Latin American immigrants were approved only 66.8% of the time.
Brown University and MIT researchers Benjamin Rissing and Emilio Castilla claim the green-card evaluation process shows gaping disparities in how foreign nationals are treated, depending on their country of origin.
Rissing and Castilla studied applications from 198,442 immigrants from 190 countries submitted for the US labor-certification process between June 2008 and September 2011. The applicants sought work authorization for 68,240 different firms. The application pool was taken from a single processing center in Atlanta, Georgia.
The researchers compared applicants from similar fields, with comparable salaries and educational qualifications.
The applications are only the first steps – but they are the hardest ones. Agents for the US Department of Labor examine them to determine whether the applicant has all the qualifications for the job he is seeking, as well as to see if a US worker would be disadvantaged if the immigrant were hired.
Theoretically, there should be no disparity in application approvals by country. As part of their training, Department of Labor agents are told to disregard potential immigrants’ nationality.
Yet this information is available right at the top of each application, explains Rissing, a professor of sociology at Brown.
The agents, who take 15-30 minutes to evaluate regular applications, have to spend about an hour before making a decision on those chosen for auditing. These applications, unlike the larger pool of applications, have detailed employment information.
A spokesperson for the Department of Labor confirmed that the decision is not made based on country of origin and so the department has not instituted any checks and balances to address disparities.
And yet application outcomes varied vastly, and in telling ways.
Immigrants who are not US citizens need green cards or permanent work permits to be employed in the US. If they don’t get meet Department of Labor standards, they tend not to advance.
“This US [Department of Labor] review is the first key step in the evaluation of the majority of employment-based green cards for ‘professionals with advanced degrees’ and ‘skilled workers, professionals, and unskilled workers,’” the researchers write in their cleverly titled paper: House of Green Cards: Statistical or Preference-Based Inequality in the Employment of Foreign Nationals, which was published in the American Sociological Review.