Population Research and Policy Review 20: 33–58, 2001.
© 2001 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Skilled temporary and permanent immigrants
in the United States
B. LINDSAY LOWELL
Georgetown University, Washington DC, USA
Abstract. The US temporary migration system is closely intertwined with the permanent
system. First, this paper deﬁnes the various temporary and permanent admission categories.
It presents available statistics on the occupations of temporary migrants upon admission and
upon adjustment to permanent residency, especially since the Immigration Act of 1990 went
into effect in 1992. There has been a sizable increase in the number of temporary workers
over the past few years and those who adjust from specialty workers (H-1B) and intracom-
pany transferee (L) have increased the overall skill composition of permanent immigrants.
Secondly, the paper reviews the literature on the labor market impact of temporary migrants
in academics and in the private sector. While there are marked concentrations of foreign-born
workers among the college educated and especially Ph.D.s, the literature raises concerns but
does not establish adverse effects (wage differentials, unemployment, etc.). There is, however,
reason for some concern given trends in the postdoctoral labor market and for employers in
‘job shops’ who undercut US workers with temporary workers.
Keywords: Skilled people, Immigrants, Temporary worker
Most of the US debate over immigration has focused on the permanent or
resident foreign-born population and the unauthorized population. Putting
it simply, unauthorized migrants are typically low-skilled and are not seen
favorably as they tend to adversely affect low-skilled natives and their chil-
dren place a ﬁscal burden on local schools. Many argue that the permanent
system, with its heavy emphasis on family-based immigration, selects for
lower skilled workers as well. Economists in particular are joined by many
policymakers in arguing for more skill selection and a greater emphasis on
employment-based immigrants. Interestingly, discussion of skilled temporary
immigrants has arisen only within the last few years.
The Immigration Act of 1965 is the architecture of today’s US immigra-
tion system. It divided the inﬂow into a predominantly family-based intake
and a smaller employment-based one, the practice of certifying that the latter
will not harm US workers, and the elaboration of an alphabet of temporary