Chain Migration: How Immigration Begets More Immigration


Support NPG PublicationsYour gift helps publish and distribute materials like this.

Click here for a downloadable, printable PDF version


An NPG Forum Paper
by Jessica Vaughan


Just over 1.05 million new legal permanent immigrants were admitted to the United States in 2015 – a slight increase of 34,000 over the prior year, according to figures recently released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).1 The total number of new immigrants admitted in the last decade is just over 12.8 million.

Legal immigration’s contribution to the U.S. population in the last decade is roughly the equivalent of adding a population equal in size to our nation’s two largest cities: New York City (8.6 million people) and Los Angeles (4.0 million people).

Immigration is the main driver of U.S. population growth. According to Census Bureau projections, immigration is expected to account for three-fourths of our future growth.

One of the aspects of our immigration system that ensures continued high immigration demand is chain migration – the provisions in our law that allow immigrants to sponsor their family members to join them in the United States. In order to curb immigration-driven population growth, it is necessary for policy makers to address chain migration. This paper explores the scale of chain migration in the U.S. immigration system and presents a set of policy recommendations which will slow it – aiding the goal to slow and ideally reverse U.S. population growth until our nation reaches a smaller, more sustainable size.

Key Findings:

  • Chain migration exceeds new immigration by a factor of roughly two to one. Out of a total of nearly 26 million immigrants admitted over a 28-year period from 1981 to 2009, more than 16 million were chain migration immigrants (63%).
  • According to the most complete contemporary academic studies on chain migration, in recent years each new immigrant has sponsored an average of 3.45 additional immigrants. In the early 1980s, the chain migration multiplier was 2.59 – more than 30 percent lower.
  • Of the top immigrant-sending countries, Mexico has the highest rate of chain migration. In the most recent five-year cohort of immigrants studied (1996-2000), new Mexican immigrants sponsored an additional 6.38 additional legal immigrants.
  • Chain migration is contributing to the aging of the immigration stream. In the early 1980s, only about 17 percent of family migrants were 50 or over. In recent years, about 21 percent of family migrants were age 50 or older – a rate that is about 24 percent higher. This trend has important implications for the fiscal consequences of immigration.
  • When the second-generation offspring of immigrants are counted, the population multiplier effect of each new immigrant admitted over the period 1972-1997 was 5.3.
  • To reduce the contribution of chain migration to immigration and by extension population growth,
    Congress should eliminate the visa lottery and three categories of legal immigration for extended family
    members and limit the number of parent admissions. These changes would reduce legal immigration by
    20 percent and reduce chain migration demand.
  • The President should begin requiring immigration agencies to complete an environmental impact analysis
    of all immigration actions and policies that increase the number of immigrants.

Continue reading the full Forum paper by clicking here.

Support NPG Publications

Jessica Vaughan

Jessica M. Vaughan is Director of Policy Studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, a research institute in Washington, DC. Prior to joining the Center she was a consular officer with the U.S. State Department.
Like and Share:
Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial