The Weird Math of the Immigration Bill

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The Senate immigration bill has some weird math. While pundits and politicians of both parties are nearly unanimous in agreeing we need immigration reform, the bill seems crafted more to send a statement than to actually make the economy or human lives better. The bill allows more than five times as many visas for high-skilled workers per year as visas for low-skilled workers, for example. The bill "is firm in cracking down on illegal immigration but sensible when it comes to legal immigration," Sens. John McCain and Chuck Schumer write in The Wall Street Journal. Sensible is a relative term. The best way to understand that is to look at the numbers:

110,000: The number of H1-B visas -- as in, for high-skilled workers -- that would be allowed in the first year. Right now, there are only 65,0000 given out each year. The number could climb as high as 180,000, based on demand.

20,000: The number of W-visas -- a new type for low-skilled workers -- that would be allowed the first year. That would climb to 35,000 the second year, 55,000 the third year, 75,000 the fourth.

15,000: The maximum number of W-visas that can go to the construction industry. While Apple and Facebook and all kinds of glamorous companies have complained that it's too difficult to get high-skilled employees, it's hard to imagine a five-to-one ratio of high-skilled workers to low-skilled workers reflects the actual demand for workers. If the workers were divided equally, that would be 300 construction workers for each U.S. state. That is not very many construction workers! According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 1.25 million "construction laborers and helpers" in the U.S. in 2010. The BLS predicts those jobs will grow at a rate of 25 percent, faster than average, over the next 10 years. Both high-skilled immigrants and low-skilled immigrants help the economy.

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Four years: How long it takes for the bill's new federal agency to start deciding which industries need more visas based on demand. According to Politico, the Immigration and Labor Market Research Bureau "would get $20 million to devise a method to calculate the low-skilled worker visa cap, determine worker shortages, survey the unemployment rate of construction workers every three months and give annual recommendations on how to improve the programs." So in four years, the government will start using actual science to determine how many workers to let in.

75 percent: The maximum percentage of employees that can be H1-B workers in 2014. After that, an employer would get no more visas. The senators clearly prefer high-skilled workers to low-skilled workers. Yet they punishes companies that hire too many high-skilled workers. In 2015, that cap drops to 65 percent, and in 2016, it drops to 50 percent

90 days: The amount of time must pass between when an employer lays off a citizen worker and hires a guest worker. 

0: The number of visas for siblings and children of American citizens who are more than 31 years old and married. The bill ends visa programs for these extended family members, The Wall Street Journal explains.

$2,000: The total price of penalties immigrants would have to pay over 10 years along the path to citizenship. They would also have to pay back taxes.

December 31, 2011: The last day someone could have immigrated illegally and qualify to get on the path to citizenship. People who can't prove they came before that would have to go home. Why this date? I'm not sure. Maybe we can blame illegal immigrants for the ugly 2012 Republican primary.

2: The number of misdemeanors an immigrant can have on his or her record and still get on the path to citizenship. Three or more, and they have to go back to their country of origin.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.