Population Research and Policy Review 17: 439–456, 1998.
© 1998 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
The effect of immigrant admission criteria on immigrant
Economic and Social Research Institute, Dublin, Ireland, and Centre for Economic Policy
Research, London, UK
Abstract. The skill levels of immigrants entering the USA has declined in recent decades;
however, most immigrants to the USA continue to be admitted on the basis of family contacts,
without reference to labour-market characteristics. This situation has given rise to a debate
about the criteria on which immigrants are admitted or excluded. I examine how the relative
skill levels of immigrants admitted under different criteria vary by country of origin, those
criteria being the possession of highly-valued skills and family connections. Using data from
the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Borjas’ 1987 model is tested. The results show (a)
that the relative skill levels of the two groups do indeed differ by country of origin, and (b) the
pattern by country of origin is consistent with the Borjas predictions. The policy implication
is that the effects of changing admission criteria will differ by country of origin, but in a
Keywords: Immigrants, Skills, Class of admission
The decline in the labour-market quality of US immigrants from the 1960s
to the 1980s (Borjas 1987, 1990) and the possible continued skill decline
through the 1980s (Borjas 1995) has generated concern over the possible
long-term impact of immigration. To reverse this trend, it has been suggested
that immigration policy be altered so that admission to the USA is based to a
greater degree on skill level as opposed to family connections.
Alongside this policy suggestion is research which shows that immigrants
from some countries will be more skilled on average than native workers,
while immigrants from other countries will be less skilled, regardless of ad-
mission criteria (Borjas 1987). If this is true, altering admission criteria will
have a smaller impact on the average labour-market characteristics of immi-
grants coming from some countries than from others.
In this paper, I will consider this issue of how immigration admission
criteria may have a different impact on the labour-market characteristics of
immigrants from different countries. I add to the literature on immigrant