Chain Migration

One of the aims of the White House immigration proposal is to reduce chain migration — John immigrates to the US, then sponsors his wife Mary, who sponsors her brother Bill and so on. As one goes through the chain, the connection to John becomes weaker and weaker, at some point becoming nil.

Ironically, you’ll find no better example of chain migration than this article extolling it. This passage says it all:

The young engineer arrived in America when he was 23 with a good education and little else. He landed a job at a nuclear test site, and built a home in Nevada. Between the 1970s and the mid-1980s, he brought his wife, mother, five sisters and a brother over from India, his native land.

In later years, his siblings sponsored family members of their own, and their clan now stretches from Nevada to Florida, New Jersey to Texas — more than 90 Americans nurtured on the strength of one ambitious engineer, Jagdish Patel, 72.

90! Mr. Patel sounds content and proud, as he well should be. But the implication that that nuclear test site couldn’t have filled its position had he not been available is of course false. Moreover, if any of those 90 people immigrated at or near retirement age, it is very likely that they used government services — cash in SSI, health care in Medicaid, access to subsidized senior housing and so on. (Many government-supported senior housing facilities are heavily populated by immigrants with little or no work experience in the U.S.  This is causing long waiting lists, with many people, native or immigrant, who did work in the U.S. now being frozen out.)

In the last 10 years or so, there is been bipartisan support for ending the core driver of chain migration, the Fourth Preference, under which naturalized citizens can sponsor their adult siblings for green cards — until now. Today, with both parties refusing to cooperate on immigration (and virtually everything else), the Democrats hope people won’t remember the Dems’ past stance, and are treating ending the Fourth Preference as Evil Incarnate.

For the record, I’ll remind everyone that I do not like elitist policies, and thus I oppose the Trump immigration reform proposal. But that doesn’t mean I support the fallacious arguments against it.

43 thoughts on “Chain Migration

  1. It’s worth emphasizing that the article does NOT talk about the education, occupations, and incomes of the relatives he sponsored. Khanwal Rekhi, an Indian entrepreneur, once referred to “second class” immigrants, the lesser educated and skilled relatives sponsored by more educated and skilled ones like the man in this article. The ones who work low wage jobs, such as counterperson in a 7Eleven. The issue isn’t so much about “elitism” IMHO, but whether or not the immigrants are able to support themselves without recourse to means-tested benefits. And whether the relatives who sponsored them honor the affidavit of financial responsibility and make sure they don’t use these benefits.


  2. I wonder if this was the story about Mr. Chen, Mr. Nguyen or even Mr. Williams, would it have caught as much of your attention? How come there are 100s of thousands of these (last) names are in America?

    By the way, the NYT is at serious fault, in most of the immigration and visa related stories I’ve read in this newspaper its about Indians and h1b etc. By doing this, they are vilifying Indian Americans in the classic democratic way (a scare and fear mongering tactic evident from the comments in NYT itself). This is a classic liberal tactic and the liberals and democratic are strongly against Indians and merely give lip service.

    As for Mr. Patel, there is a part of India called Gujarat, and people from this part (as well as Punjab) are known to pull over their entire family and clan wherever they go (quite similar to different regions of different Asian countries including China). The immigration from this region of India to US is on a sharp decline.


    • Your question (if the profiled immigrant had been named Smith, would the article have captured my attention?) is a very reasonable one.

      Some years ago, I researched the issue of elderly immigrant use of welfare, people who had never worked in the US, and whose adult children had pledge to keep their parents OFF welfare. Because of my close ties to the Chinese community, I had heard stories of widespread abuse, so I started looking at the data. It turned out that among non-refugee groups, the Chinese and the Koreans had the highest rates of usage (the Indians were up there too, but not at the very top). So when some people asked me why I singled out (针对) the Chinese, I noted that they had singled themselves out.

      That goes for the Fourth Preference as well. As the Asian-American political activists point out in lobbying to retain FP, it is the Asian groups that are the ones making heavy use of FP.

      And FP is a policy that makes no sense to me, regardless of nationality or race, and the welfare situation is a real problem. I’ve written about welfare use by Russian immigrants too.


      • Great that you observed this information as well as acknowledge it. From my time in America, I’ve also learned that the immigrant groups that most abuse the system are actually American allies or in case of China a favored nation, as Americans often tend to “overlook” flaunting of rules by these groups. Its worth mentioning that many illegal Taiwanese were given green card without any hype or laws during 80s and 90s. Also, the highest number DACA recipients after any latin country is Korea (again overlooked as Korea is a $ economy with US army bases).

        As for welfare use in general (I haven’t looked at by elderly), immigrants from south Asia rank the lowest according to CIS report ( This was even acknowledged by Tucker Carlson of Fox News in an interview with a Latino immigration advocate.

        Again, not every Indian who is even given a tourist visa to America will bring 90 of his family members as some “smart minds” are thinking after this crap NYT piece. And Mr. Patel of this article is responsible for upfront visa denials to anyone with last name “Patel” at US consulate in Mumbai.


        • I think you are being unfair to the NYT. The paper is very pro-immigration, and the article put Mr. Patel in a very positive light.

          You are being paranoid about East Asia. There was a general amnesty in the 1980s, and indeed many Chinese and Koreans benefited, but it was GENERAL, not limited to those nationalities. Currently there are indeed a number of East Asians here illegally, esp. Chinese, and guess what, the US has no military bases in China.

          As you know, I was not talking about general welfare; I was talking about the elderly. The Chinese and Korean general rates are low, while their elderly rates are high.


      • In New York City you will also see welfare and other subsidized services being used in the Orthodox Jewish community. Most people think of Jewish communities as all being affluent, but out in the boroughs of NYC, the cost of living is high and their families are large. Many of them are recent immigrants.


        • Same problem, actually worse, with the (ultra-) Orthodox in Israel. But we are talking about immigration policy here; abuse of welfare by natives is a different issue.

          When a US citizen, typically an immigrant himself, sponsors his elderly parents for green cards, he must sign an affidavit stating that he will keep his parents off welfare. There are complexities, leading to loopholes that are deftly exploited by the sponsors, which I won’t go into here. But the point is that our immigration policy sets up a situation in which we are accepting large numbers of people who clearly will be going on welfare, as they likely won’t work for the 10 years needed to qualify for Social Security and Medicare. This counters another part of immigration law that says a person must not be given a green card if he is likely to become a “public charge.” Actually, the Trump administration has begun to quietly clamp down on this.


          • I was referring to immigrants when I referenced the Orthodox Jewish community. Many come from Israel, Russia, and Europe. I don’t know how they get in, but it might be chain migration.


          • I believe most in Crown Heights are natives, but I don’t have data. The Russians tend to come in on refugee visas (or did when I conducted my study), which is a different category because there is no adult child or sibling signing an affidavit promising to keep the beneficiary off welfare. (That doesn’t make it less abusive, just less clear-cut.) So I kept my data to the non-refugee nations, and the Chinese and Koreans were at the top, with the Filipinos a distant second.


          • I invite you to go visit the Daly City, California DMV. There are more new immigrants holding green cards there applying for drivers license (mostly from South Korea, China, and Philippines) than there are Americans. A lot of them you can tell came here through chain migration as they do not look like “high skilled” workers (then again, neither do the Indians on H1Bs). The wait time is 8 hours! This is what chain migration immigration has done.


          • To me, your DMV example shows both the success and the failure of the 1965 law. It made the US racially and ethnically more diverse, which I view as major POSITIVE change. But on the negative side, it has overwhelmed our urban areas, causing them to grow much faster than expansion of infrastructure.

            For example, say I wish to go to that Daly City office from the East Bay. If I drive, the Bay Bridge traffic will likely be stop-and-go. If I take BART, I probably will have to stand for most of the trip.


          • The number of green cards hasn’t changed.
            What has changed is the uncapped number of foreign workers present, illegal and visa’d. WAY beyond our green card numbers.

            “It made the US racially and ethnically more diverse”
            Technically. On paper. We’ve grown many race and ethnic factions and enclaves, most of which are age distilled. Which isn’t racially and ethnically more diverse.


          • The geographical enclaves are small. Do we have virtual ones? Are the second- and further generations overly tied to them? I don’t see much evidence of that so far.


          • Virtual, as in power, force, or effect? Splattered throughout US’ workforce history. Tammany Hall, for instance.

            “Are the second- and further generations overly tied to them?”
            That seems to unwind through decades, related to the scale of migration from single location, across scale of time. South Boston, still very Irish. North Boston, still very Italian. Etc.

            The only explicit arguments for diversity (via immigration) I’ve heard are
            – Wall St/Bank of America’s CEO: immigrants spend money on household goods upon arrival
            – Wall St, we want business connections to the other side of the planet
            – (I think it was The Guardian) reporter, paraphrased, “Don’t we all like eating authentic tacos?”
            Do you have a particular view of diversity, benefits in particular?


    • “How come there are 100s of thousands of these (last) names are in America?”
      Nguyen – entire kingdom with this one last name.
      Williams – family name that’s been here hundreds of years.
      Chen – sorry, can’t help you with that one.
      NYT/Indian/H1B, because citizens are being supplanted at work by H1Bs, mainly from India. Currently 69% of computer related jobs are held by H1Bs. Don’t know how much of the remaining 31% are held by L1s, OPTs, and CPTs.
      Patel – my Mr said a manager at work, Patel, refuses to hire anyone but last name Patel. He worked for another man who would only hire men who’s parents he knows back in India. My experience in tech, I know 1 Indian manager who hired _1_ American. The rest hired only H1B from India with one exception, one of the managers got guff from my Chinese H1B coworkers so she’d occasionally hire a Chinese H1B. All of these experiences are from over 20 years ago, and it hasn’t let up.


      • Yes, there used to be quite a cohesiveness among the Patels in the US, e.g. the “Patel motels.” Chen is certainly one of the most common Chinese surnames, but I think the most common is Zhang/Chang.


      • This is exactly what I was referring to (for reverse psychosis), there is no mention of h1b in the NYT article, but this is one of the first point you mention. Most of these h1bs, OPTs, CPTs came as students, would you ask your universities to stop that please? I also wonder if you see any Indian do you see an H1b tattoo on his head?

        I for one would have been more receptive of this NYT article, had they profiled an Irish Immigrant family from 1800s, an Italian immigrant family from 1900s and then the Patel. The NYT Patel clan themselves seem to have inter-married (daughter being married to a white), how does that make them any different from Irish or German Americans?

        Prior to just about year 2005, almost 75% of Indian Americans could trace their roots to just two Indian states (Gujarat and Punjab), the “sense of community” is very high in these states (similar to hispanics). In many Indian government programs, there are state-wise quotas. And I think the US consulates in India should follow that as well.

        The Indian american nobel laureate, the CEOs of top companies etc. have most of their families still in India, as also many Indian Americans from other parts of India.


        • Also, I’ve always believed that you can’t and should not go (for long term anywhere from 1 year onwards) to a country like America without a solid plan of your own. You can’t go there just because one of your close relatives happen to live there. This is the advice I give to anyone above 25 year age, and for anyone below if they want to experience America, try to go for education.

          And the former immigrants would end up in a 7-11 or a taco stand or a hair / nail salon.


        • The immigration policy in question that gives (usually naturalized) citizens the right to sponsor their adult siblings for immigration was enacted in 1965, so what happened in the 1800s is irrelevant.

          You continue to believe that NYT had bad motivations. I am hardly a defender of them, but I’m sure you are wrong. On the contrary, their point was that non-European background people are valued Americans too, including those who immigrate. And by the way, Mr. Patel didn’t appear out of the blue; he was almost certainly suggested by an immigrant advocate, e.g. lawyer, or from a call the reporter put out to NYT colleagues for an example of the benefits of chain migration.

          H-1B is largely a sham. You know it, I know it and everyone here knows it. Though I had hoped to make this blog more general, most of my posts here are about H-1B, a topic that, sadly, I know all too well.

          I strongly support the notion of bringing international students to the U.S. When the CA state legislature proposed setting a limit on foreign students in UC some years ago, I made a formal objection. OTOH, I do NOT support lowering the university admissions bar for foreign students, and strongly oppose the H-1B and green card system that allows employers to hire foreign students and other foreign workers while rejecting qualified U.S. citizens and permanent residents.


          • Ravi’s point is foreign students use US universities as a presumed immigration gateway. What’s become interesting is their perception of entitlement to immigration post-graduation.


          • A few years ago, the San Jose Mercury News ran a TV commercial, in which an Indian man says, “Without us Indians, there would be no Silicon Valley.” Of course, the Chinese have a similar view.


          • Ah… there were no real immigration laws prior to 1965 so people (mostly white) would just come and stay for whatever time they wished (forgive my bluntness)!!! As for mundane jobs, there were slaves and braceros and asians (except Japanese) non-existent.

            You make many valid points and I think we mostly agree. However, you’re and ardent supporter of Diversity lottery and want it expanded, how are family immigrants any different than them?


          • You’re grossly mischaracterizing my stance on a (not the) Diversity Lottery. What I said was that I’d prefer a DL to an elitist point system.

            We’ve never had open borders. Surely you’ve heard of Ellis Island and Angel Island.


          • International student admission will drop once it becomes harder to get H1B visas and green cards. That is why the universities are also fighting against preserving OPT and H1B.

            Liked by 1 person

          • That is why universities are fighting for “staple a green card to every graduate’s diploma”. Along with moving to “merit” reconfiguration. Which is basically “Buy a citizenship!”. Why does “Canada’s works so well!”? Because many of them pass through Canada’s system coming to the US on a TN visa.

            It also suits industry, to flood the high cost labor market, even though degreed immigrants are just as poorly employed as degreed citizens.


        • “Most of these h1bs, OPTs, CPTs came as students, would you ask your universities to stop that please?”
          Restricting H1B/L1/OPT/CPT to one year/no renewals/no dual intent would do it. But while we’re on the topic, can you ask Modi to come up with something better for economic policy than exporting population?

          “I also wonder if you see any Indian do you see an H1b tattoo on his head? ”
          Decades back, no, currently, yes. Not literally of course. Of the hundreds of Indian I know, the vast majority came as students and stayed as H1B.


  3. The article surely paints Patel as positive, my problem is the use of I-word (India), there’s a term called “reverse psychosis” that is quite prevalent amongst masses today. And when people see pictures of brown people and hear India and number 90, they will think Indians are about to takeover. An article written by Joel Stein on Indians in NJ in 2008 is an example.


    • The word being used is “invasion”. And yes, it denotes a tone of hysteria.
      Besides seeing entire departments replaced with H1Bs at work, an antagonistic practice, the incessant drumbeat of “diversity” is antagonizing, as though communities are defective without (some magical unspecified) race demographic ratios. And this only applies to some communities, I don’t see complaints Chinatown, Koreatown or Harlem lack “diversity”.
      Rather than do the adult thing, discussing the above, politicians ignore it, and tempers are rising. And that is irresponsible, and likely to lead to (more) serious trouble.
      Similarly simmering in England, Italy, Canada, Germany, Australia, Greece, etc.
      “We live in interesting times.”, as the saying goes.


  4. On a similar note, you hear a lot about tech talent “moving north” to Canada because of the “long wait” for a green card. You would think that means talented individuals regardless of age, right? Wrong.

    Buried within the Federal Canadian Point System for their skilled worker program is implicit age discrimination:

    May I quote from this article:

    “Applicants to the federal skilled worker scheme – the most common route to permanent residency – are currently prioritized in the points-based system if they are aged up to 49.”

    “But under new immigration rules due to come into place next year, this is dropping to 35. Points will be deducted for each year that an applicant’s age exceeds 35.”

    That’s a drop of 14 years since the “move north” campaign started a year ago.

    My question is this: Is this “skilled worker program” about bringing in the best and brightest or just those more likely to pay more taxes for a longer period and less likely to be using the social safety net?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s not really “buried.” I think it’s pretty well known that Canada’s point system has age as a major component. The bipartisan Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act had such a “feature” too, if I recall correctly.


  5. I would like to share some remarkable results of my non-scientific survey.

    I looked up homeowners in the Houston area with last name Patel. There where about 1400 property owners with last name Patel. The homes prices were way above the mean home price. I estimated that less than 5% (perhaps closer to 2%) have English sounding first names. I also looked up the name Patel at several universities, again less than about 5% (perhaps closer to 2%) have English sounding first names. I guess they must be proud of their heritage. For last name Nguyen about more than half have English sounding first names.

    A UC-Davis search of patel returned 99 results. About ten were undeclared or visitors. About ten were computer or engineering majors excluding biomedical engineering. About 38 were biology or medically related !! A similar pattern was seen at other universities.

    So if you are worried about your kid’s future, take a look at what the Patels are studying in college.


    • It is true that most East Asian immigrants give their US children Western names, whereas the Indians do not. Some Indians kind of split the difference, by giving their kids Indian names that sound Western, such as Anil/Neil. Our own Ron(il) Hira, of H-1B critic fame, is another example, as is Sara/Saraswati. I believe the outmarriage rate among South Asian-Americans is lower than that of the East Asians, but still quite substantial.

      Regarding the Western names, are there heritage pride issues, different between, say, the Chinese and the Indians? My theory is that the Chinese are motivated by a desire in the parents to facilitate their kids’ success in mainstream US society, while the Indians are sure enough of that success to make a Western name unnecessary. Just a theory.

      The Chinese-American write Gish Jen points out that she has three names: her Chinese name, her English name Lillian, and the pen name she chose for herself, Gish (inspired by the silent film actress Lillian Gish). So, to her, “my name” means something somewhat different than to most of us.


  6. Even foreign students from China are quick to adopt fake American names when they come here, but you almost never see the ones from India doing that.

    My guess is the Indians are used to communicating in English while using their Indian names back where they’re from, and simply continue doing so when they are here. The Chinese have to start from scratch and learn to communicate in a new language, and collectively seem to think that having a “familiar” name might make it easier for them to do so. The immigrant Chinese parents then probably think that it is a good idea to extend this to their kids as well.


    • Indians also have 200 years of English heritage and one would think they would adopt English names, the reasons –
      1. Indian (first) names can be easily pronounced by most westerners, the European and Indian languages have same roots.
      2. They have a vast list of names with cultural significance
      3. And we blindly believe the Shakespeare quote “what’s in a name”, also read him a lot growing up!


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