STUDY: US Has 4 Million ‘Half-Amnestied’ Immigrants

(Joshua Paladino, Liberty Headlines) An estimated 4 million aliens who do not have legal permanent status in the United States are legally working under temporary work permits issued by the Department of Homeland Security, according to a report the Center for Immigration Studies.

worker photo

Photo by Maks Karochkin (CC)

Under one form, called the Employment Authorization Document (EAD), DHS allows many different groups of immigrants to work legally, including individuals given protection under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), refugees, and illegal immigrants who cannot be deported.

David North, fellow at CIS who authored the study, estimated nearly a half-million people protected by DACA currently work in the United States.

He raised heightened concern about one subset of workers.

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“The program that I’m particularly unhappy about is OPT, which is the Optional Practical Training program, which lets aliens work legally but gives them a bonus—it gives their employers a bonus for hiring them. The employers don’t have to pay payroll taxes and neither do the workers.”

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Immigrants who qualify for this program are college alumni who get to work in the United States after graduation. North estimated approximately 200,000 immigrants currently receive this federal subsidy to work in America.

“The basic social problem is we really do not need all those extra workers,” North said. “That means that for every job that each of these people hold, some U.S. resident, some legal immigrant is not working. I say that we should make a determined effort to reduce that number.”

As for the legality of DHS handing out millions of EADs, North said it’s “probably legal” but “something that we shouldn’t do.”

While people say legal, high-skilled, and work-related immigration has hit an all-time low, North said he wants people to recognize that this group of 4 million alien workers is not counted.

“There has been no policy discussion of how all these separate programs add to a population that dwarfs those of the H programs,” North said, “which probably produce a total of between 1.0 and 1.5 million.”

Workers selected for EAD do not have to prove merit or necessity like immigrants granted H-1B or H-2B visas. Immigrants working under the various H programs are also “tethered” to a specific employer, whereas EAD workers can move freely throughout the labor market as if they were legal permanent residents or citizens.

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EADs can last from a few months to a few years, with most extending 18 months or longer. In some cases, immigrants afforded EADs can become lifelong residents.

North said this group’s size warrants its discussion alongside legal immigrants, temporary foreign workers, and illegal aliens when determining the country’s immigration policy.

The group is growing at a higher rate than other categories of immigrants. The number of EADs DHS has granted rose from 1.2 million in 2014 to 2.1 million in 2017. DHS has complete discretion over this program and has increased the number of EAD workers without congressional or presidential approval.