Learning from the best: What can the world’s most successful immigrant countries teach the United States

In 2020, the fifth edition of the Index Policy Integrant Migrant (MIPEX) was published. It includes the world’s 56 leading migrant countries and ranks each of the eight policy areas to better assess the overall assessment of integration with migrants. MIPEX describes itself as a “comprehensive, reliable and usable tool” for measuring the integration policies of countries around the world.

According to MIPEX, the United States is in sixth place after Sweden, Finland, Portugal, Canada and New Zealand. Of the eight policy areas analyzed, the United States is competitive with five other countries in five areas of policy, but in some cases significantly lags behind the other three countries: family reunification, political participation, and permanent residency.

So what do these countries do differently?

Family reunification has served as the cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy since the 1965 Immigration and Citizenship Act. However, according to MIPEX, the United States ranks 19th in the world in this category, after Serbia, Indonesia and Argentina. Four of the top five countries are ranked in the top 10 countries for family reunification, with the exception of Finland, which ranks 13th.

For example, Canada ranks second in family reunification on three separate factors.

First, a large number of people have been provided with permanent residence through family reunification channels. In 2021, Canada plans to issue 103,500 family visas. The United States, on the other hand, has no visa restrictions for close family members – spouses, children, or parents of U.S. citizens, but a maximum of 226,000 visas per year is available for all other categories of family-sponsored benefits. In fiscal year 2019, nearly 710,000 family visas were issued. By 2020, that number had dropped to less than 450,000. The U.S. exports about six times more family visas annually than Canada between 2018 and 2020, but it also has an approximate one. nine times population relative to Canada. If the U.S. adopts the ratio of Canadian visas to the national population, it should be able to afford 900,000 family visas each year.

Canada is also highly regarded for managing family visa arrears. As of February 2022, the family visa arrears amounted to 102,222 people, which is about 12 months for couples and 20 to 24 months for parents or grandparents. In the United States, by the end of 2021, more than 9 million people were behind on family visas. This led to an average wait of more than five years and in some cases more than 20 years.

Finally, Canada has increasingly digitalized its visa processing methods and, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has begun processing remote applications. The U.S. still uses U.S. paper and mail attachments to process forms, and is constantly disrupted by the ongoing pandemic.

According to MIPEX, Finland is still the most successful country in the political participation of migrants. There are two main reasons for this.

Unlike the United States, Finland allows non-citizens to vote in municipal and municipal elections. To be eligible to vote, non-Finnish citizens must live in the same municipality for at least two years before the election. As Finland is a member of the European Union, EU citizens have an additional right to participate in European elections. The only elections closed to non-Finnish citizens are parliamentary and presidential elections.

Another reason for the strong political participation of Finnish migrants is the active role of the federal government in attracting migrants. In 2015, the Government of Finland established the Advisory Council on Ethnic Relations (ETNO), which is designed to facilitate dialogue between migrants, ethnic minorities, the authorities, political parties and civil society organizations. It provides an opportunity for stakeholders to exchange views on migrant integration and political participation. Although ETNO recommendations are not binding on legal issues, it still affects national legislation and decision-making.

The final area in which the U.S. ranked worse than the other five best countries was the provision of permanent residency, which ranked 24th. The reasons for this are high costs, strict compliance requirements, and limited rights of permanent residents in the United States

Sweden (in 6th place) is doing a decent job of providing an easy and simple process for its migrants to find permanent residence. There are two main reasons for this success.

One major difference between Sweden and the United States is the application process. In Sweden, there is no EU citizen who is not related to a Swedish citizen or permanent resident, in many cases having the right to apply for a permanent residence permit after five years in the country. The complete application for permanent residence consists of: a four-page application, which must be completed in Swedish, copies of the individual passport, documents showing how the person is financially self-sufficient, and documents of the person’s housing expenses.

In the United States, the documents required for permanent residence depend on the chosen route of the person, usually based either on family or occupation. In most cases, two forms are required: Application I-485 for registration of permanent residence or status regulation and I-130 for individuals on the way of permanent family residence or I-140 for individuals on the way to employment. However, in reality, a person applying for permanent residency in the United States must submit more than two forms. For example, I-485 must be accompanied by up to nine additional forms depending on the applicant’s situation.

Application costs are the second major difference between applying for permanent residence in Sweden and the United States.

In the US, the cost varies widely depending on the route to find a permanent residence and the forms offered. For permanent family residency, it costs about $ 1,760 to submit a full application. These costs include I-485 and I-130 application fees and biometric data collection fees. The cost of permanent residence based on employment can be much higher, ranging from about $ 1,000 to about $ 9,000. And these costs do not depend on the cost of the immigration lawyer, as applicants understand that they must be successful with the application.

Although the cost and complexity of the permanent residence application process were a significant factor in the low U.S. valuation in this measure, work has already been done to improve them. For example, one of the reasons for the low price was the Trump administration’s public payment rule in August 2019, which made it easier to deprive immigrants of permanent residency if they had access to government benefits, such as Medicaid and public housing. However, a federal court overturned the rule in 2020 and the state prosecution returned to its traditional and less stringent definition. The changes to simplify and reduce the cost of the application process to obtain permanent U.S. residency would be a good start for those who qualify.

The MIPEX rating clearly shows where the U.S. needs to improve in terms of immigration integration. Other countries, such as Canada, Finland and Sweden, offer successful examples of the types of policies that are useful and necessary for the integration of migrants. However, it will not be easy to implement all the necessary policy reforms.

Some reforms, such as reducing application costs and organizing forums to encourage dialogue between the federal government and migrant communities, can only be implemented through executive action. Others, such as raising the visa limit and discussing whether non-citizens are allowed to vote, will be more difficult. Although the predictions of these reforms in today’s political environment are unclear, they should represent the goals of the U.S. dream of promoting and actively encouraging the integration of immigrants into American society.

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