Too often, “family-based immigration” is described as something distinct from “high-skilled immigration” or “merit-based immigration.” This may come as a surprise to the millions of U.S. citizens who hold their spouses, children, parents, and other relatives in high esteem.
“Merit-based immigration” is a term usually used to describe immigrants admitted based on education or job skills. But here again, plenty of family-sponsored immigrants are unusually well-educated and highly skilled, finding “greater economic freedom and flexibility than immigrants on restrictive employment-based visas.”
One Cato Institute extrapolation from Census data indicates that immigrants who got their green cards based on family relationships or the Diversity Visa are much more likely to have obtained a college or graduate degree than native-born U.S. citizens. (Immigrants who get their green card based on a job offer nearly always have a college degree or higher, because those are the eligibility rules for such visas.)
Moreover, the average education level of immigrants is rising over time: The Migration Policy Institute found that 48% of recently arrived immigrants were college graduates, compared to just 27% a quarter-century earlier.
Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are overwhelmingly likely to be working-age (77%), and most of the retirement-age immigrants (10%) are presumably parents.
Other family-sponsored immigrants are more likely to be children (36%), but much less likely to be retirement-age (1.4%).
Although DHS only provides occupational data for about two-thirds of recent immigrants, it appears that family-sponsored immigrants are more likely to be homemakers (hardly an occupation without “merit”), while many are in professional or managerial roles.
Learn more in our 2019 family-based immigration report.