I’ve lived in immigrant households all my life. My dad was an immigrant, and though Mom was born in the U.S., she had the Old World view. My wife is an immigrant.
In the early 1990s, my connection to immigrant communities exposed me to rather shocking (but legal) abuse of two government programs. You already know one of them — the H-1B work visa program. The other was abuse of welfare programs by elderly immigrants, both in the form of cash (SSI) and noncash assistance, the latter consisting of Medicaid, subsidized senior housing and miscellaneous aid such as reduced telephone service rates (Lifeline).
During that time, I gave invited testimony to the U.S. Senate, wrote an invited article for The New Democrat (a magazine started by the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party) and so on. As a statistician, I analyzed the data and as a Chinese speaker I interviewed many Chinese seniors who were receiving such aid, as well as social workers, immigration lawyers and so on. Note carefully: I do NOT blame the seniors for this abuse, as they are unaware, but their adult sons and daughters who sponsor them are indeed culpable.
Among other things, I showed that most of the seniors receiving aid actually had well-off sons and daughters, and were living with them. During that time, a typical scenario in Silicon Valley, for instance, was that of husband and wife both from Taiwan, both making good money as engineers, and living in an expensive house — and with the down payment for that house coming in part from SSI money from the old folk. The latter would also serve as babysitters for the grandkids, and when the grandkids got older, the seniors would move into government-subsidized senior housing. The seniors would enjoy yearly trips back home to Taiwan — people on welfare enjoying international vacations, while some American black people on welfare had never even seen the ocean. Again, all of this was legal (with one possibly questionable aspect), and indeed promoted by the federal government.
You may find this transcript of my appearance on a Bay Area Chinese-language TV show to be informative.
I haven’t looked at this issue for years, but one of Alan Tonelson’s blog posts inspired me to comment now. So, what has happened since I was researching this nearly 20 years ago?
First of all, in 1996 Congress passed, and Pres. Clinton signed into law, a general welfare reform plan that did include provisions for immigrants. It basically banned green card holders from receiving cash forms of welfare, though the immigrants need only naturalize to receive such aid. Needless to say, naturalization rates soared. But as Alan points out, there is still lots of noncash assistance available even to the ones who have not yet naturalized.
One big example is subsidized senior housing. If you visit such locations in almost any large urban area, you will likely find it populated almost entirely by elderly Asian immigrants, with long waiting lists.
My understanding is that Canada recently changed its immigration policy so that foreign seniors with Canadian adult children could only visit Canada. The visit durations are generous, but the old folk now cannot become citizens and be eligible for welfare.
One more important point: In the 1990s, this was a bipartisan issue. The Democrats actually took the lead, extending the period to become eligible from three years to five, in 1993 when they still held Congress. And though the Republicans took over Congress in 1994 and wrote the welfare reform bill that was eventually enacted, the Democrats had their own proposal, only slightly less draconian in terms of immigrants, and of course Democratic President Clinton signed it into law. That is not true today, of course, and if Trump clamps down, expect opposition from the Democrats, and of course from plaintiffs in the Ninth Circuit.
Update: After I posted the original version of the above, a reader wondered if the 1996 law had later been changed. Looking at the government instructions for applicants we see that the statute was indeed amended to grandfather those already receiving SSI at the time of enactment. As noted, I have not been following development for quite some time now, and had not been aware of the grandfathering, though I did advocate it at the time (and still believe it was the right thing to do).