Want a work visa? It's better to be Asian than Hispanic

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Asian and Canadian immigrants have a much better chance of being approved for a work visa than immigrants from Latin America, according to a new study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brown University.


The study, which looked at a three-year period, found that federal officials approved 91 percent of labor certification applications from Asian immigrants and 90 percent from Canadian immigrants, but just 67 percent of applications from Latin American immigrants.

Labor certification is a key phase in an immigrant's quest for work authorization. Agents from the Department of Labor evaluate the labor market for the job in question and then approve or deny the application based on how the immigrant's employment might impact wages and working conditions for U.S. workers. Discrimination based on race or nationality is forbidden.


The MIT study, first published in the American Sociological Review, controlled for key factors that might distort the findings, such as the visa histories of the applicants in question and the salaries being offered by employers.

Researchers also found that the discrepancy vanished when the U.S. government conducted an audit of an application, which requires more extensive documentation from the applicant and scrutiny from the agent.

Why the variation? The study suggests that stereotypes could be to blame, particularly "negative perceptions of Latino immigrants." It's possible agents erroneously believe Hispanics would be better suited for low-skilled work or have a proclivity toward crime, according to the report.

“This could have significant implications for both understanding inequality [in immigration], and also how to think about testing solutions that will mitigate some of these demographic biases,” said Emilio J. Castilla, an MIT associate professor and co-author of the study.


The Department of Labor did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

The inequality persisted within different job sectors, too. Although most applications involved people seeking jobs in tech, advanced manufacturing, education and finance, Hispanics were also less likely to be approved for jobs as cooks and construction workers.


Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.

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