How do U.S. Visa Policies Affect Unauthorized Immigration?

Brian K. Kovak, Rebecca Lessem

NBER Working Paper No. 26790
Issued in February 2020
NBER Program(s):International Trade and Investment, Labor Studies

We examine how increasing the number of visas available to potential migrants would affect unauthorized immigration from Mexico to the U.S. Current U.S. policy bans people who are deported from receiving legal status for a period of time. This policy aims to serve as an additional deterrent to unauthorized immigration, but may be ineffective given that most potential Mexican migrants have an extremely low probability of ever being able to legally move to the U.S. We develop a dynamic discrete location choice model, which we estimate using data from the Mexican Migration Project, and consider various counterfactual policies that vary the intensity of enforcement and access to work visas. We find that legal entry bans for deported individuals are ineffective at current rates of legal immigration, but that increased legalization rates would amplify the deterrent effects of deportation. We also show that a temporary work visa program would yield similar deterrent effects as an increase in permanent legalization without resulting in very large increases in the total stock of migrants residing in the U.S. These findings have important implications for structuring future immigration reforms.

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Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w26790

Published: Brian K. Kovak & Rebecca Lessem, 2020. "How do U.S. Visa Policies Affect Unauthorized Immigration?," Journal of Monetary Economics, .

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