Panel Paper: A Demographic Analysis of Spousal Immigrants

Saturday, November 8, 2014 : 9:10 AM
Isleta (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Devlin Hanson, Urban Institute
The Immigration Act of 1965 transformed U.S. immigration policy by replacing country-specific quotas with a rationing system that emphasized family unification. Since then policy makers and academics alike have debated the merits of family-preference immigration. Many have argued that the emphasis on kinship results in a relatively large proportion of new immigrants with low skills.  Spousal immigrants, either entering through marriage to a US Citizen, a Legal Permanent Resident or as an accompanying spouse, make up a substantial portion of immigrants who enter under family-preference vouchers.  In 2012, 48% of all new legal permanent residents obtained green cards through marriage. Yet, little is known about the characteristics of spousal immigrants. In this paper, I conduct a demographic analysis of spousal immigrants by visa category using the 2003 New Immigrant Survey. While there is substantial variation in the characteristics of spousal immigrants across visa category, I find that across almost all visa categories spousal immigrants exhibit positive assortative mating along the dimensions of age, education, and nationality. Thus, the characteristics of spousal immigrants are a reflection of the characteristics of their U.S. citizen and legal permanent resident spouses.  The exception to the rule of assortative mating is for employment, especially for employment preference immigrants, where despite having similar levels of education, accompanying spouses have much lower unemployment rates. In this paper, I will explore possible explanations for this difference, including restrictions on work for spouses of H1B visa (a temporary employment visa) holders.