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Recession Hits Hard Among Immigrants

Some bad news for immigrants: The unemployment gap between immigrants and native-born citizens has expanded during the recession and will likely remain until long after the recession ends, according to a BBC World Service/Migration Policy Institute report released Thursday. This has impacted immigration levels in all five developed countries considered in the report — the U.S., Germany, Ireland, Spain and the United Kingdom — as fewer foreigners choose to immigrate legally or illegally.

Immigrant men and youth have suffered the highest unemployment, largely due to shrinking of male-dominated industries such as construction. Women fared substantially better, according to the report.

Seeing fewer economic opportunities in developed countries, many would-be immigrants are staying put. This applies to legal as well as illegal immigration, according to the report:

Inflows to the United States fell in almost all temporary work visa categories, including a 23 percent drop in intracompany transfers and a 50 percent decline in visas issued to low-skilled seasonal workers. But, other legal flows have also been affected. Even family immigrants who have waited several years to receive a green card granting legal permanent residence in the United States seem to have become less willing to take up their visa when they reach the front of the line. In some countries, such as Ireland and the United States, foreign-born populations have actually fallen.

In some cases, such as for illegal immigration, the lower immigration numbers could be considered a silver lining to the recession. Still, this information points to an important side note when discussing how to decrease illegal immigration: While increased border security measures and enforcement can account for some of the drop in illegal immigration, the economy is also a major factor.

As for legal immigrants, the recession has shown they need more aid to avoid passing poverty to the next generations, the BBC World Service/Migration Policy Institute report argued:

Perhaps more critically, the recession has exposed an underlying weakness in the longstanding assumption that, as in the past, a dynamic labor market alone would effectively integrate the latest wave of immigrants to the United States. A growing body of research points to the importance of the social safety net in limiting the intergenerational transmission of poverty among the less educated.

One answer, according to the nonpartisan report, would be comprehensive immigration reform. If done properly, reform could aid with some of these problems by creating long-term solutions to limit illegal immigration and integrate legal immigrants into the United States.

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