Pathways to legal immigration

Douglas S. Massey, Nolan Malone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


In this paper we use the New Immigrant Survey Pilot Study (NISP) to describe the amount and kind of experience that immigrants accumulate in the United States before they become permanent resident aliens. The NISP surveyed a representative sample of legal immigrants who acquired residence papers during July and August of 1996, yielding a completed sample of 1,135 adults. Our analysis revealed that roughly two-thirds of these newly arrived immigrants had prior experience in the United States within one of six basic categories: illegal border-crossers, visa abusers, non-resident visitors, non-resident workers, students or exchange visitors, and refugees/asylees. Each of these pathways to legal immigration was associated with a different profile with respect to nationality, social background, and economic status. Using simple earnings regressions we demonstrate how these differences can yield misleading conclusions about the process of immigrant adaptation and assimilation, even if measured effects are reasonably accurate. We suggest that social scientists should change the way they think and ask about immigrants' arrival in the United States.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)473-504
Number of pages32
JournalPopulation Research and Policy Review
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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