Finding, using data on visas and immigration

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Photo by Robert Holly/Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

"Covering the U.S. Visa System in Your Own Backyard" workshop fellows listen to speaker Brant Houston discuss the J-visa and diversity visa program on April 11, 2015.

Brant Houston, Knight Chair in enterprising and investigative reporting at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, highlighted different tools reporters can use to cover visas and immigration earlier this month at a Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting workshop in Chicago.

The workshop, “Covering the U.S. Visa System in Your Own Backyard,” was part of a specialized reporting institute supported by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and Poynter.

Houston’s session took place on April 11 at Columbia College. Those not at the workshop can follow some of the conservation and discussion by following the Twitter tag #InvestigateVisas.

Here are some of the key resources Houston discussed during his presentation.

iCert data

By using iCert’s public jobs registry, individuals can view H-2A and H-2B visa cases by state. In other words, a reporter from Illinois can research all the different cases maintained by the Employment and Training Administration. This state list shows when the visa case was posted, its status, its employer and its work-start data.

The jobs registry tool also provides contextual information, such as the job description and pay rate. Some examples of employer and job description include: “soccer coach” for UK International Soccer Camps, “farm worker” for Tom’s Farm Market and Greenhouses, and “housekeeper” for Lake Shore Country Club.

In some cases, reporters can view relevant documents – such as job orders and certifications – as well.

Federal labor contractor list

Thousands of individuals each year come to work at U.S. agricultural operations under H2-A visas. Before they arrive, the migrant workers are often recruited by federally licensed labor contractors.

An example from the list of debarred labor contractors. Click on the image to enlarge.

Screen capture on April 20, 2015

An example from the list of debarred labor contractors. Click on the image to enlarge.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division publishes the national list of licensed contracts online and updates it on a quarterly basis. The list contains the name and physical address for all licensed contractors.

To find instances of abuse, reporters can also view an “ineligible farm labor contractor” list.

In a separate session, migrant labor advocate Miguel Kerberlein Gutiérrez told reporters analyzing the license list with the ineligible list can lead to stories. Debarred contractors use the names of family members to secure licenses.

Census data

By using the “American fact finder” tool, reporters can learn detailed information about specific groups of people, their ancestry and where they come from. Instead of looking for a group of people, reporters can also use this tool to search for their geographic locations and learn demographic information that way, instead.

Visa directory

The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting's "Covering the U.S. Visa System in Your Own Backyard" workshop was held April 10 - 12 at Columbia College in Chicago. Here, fellows ask speaker Mike McGraw questions on visa reporting.

Photo by Claire Everett/Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting's "Covering the U.S. Visa System in Your Own Backyard" workshop was held April 10 - 12 at Columbia College in Chicago. Here, fellows ask speaker Mike McGraw questions on visa reporting.

Overall, there are two overarching categories for visas: immigrant visas and nonimmigrant visas. Immigrant visas are for individuals looking to move and live in the United States, while nonimmigrant visas are only for temporary work, travel or study.

Within those two categories, there are dozens of different specific visa categories. For instance, there is the B-1 visa for athletes, the J visa for au pairs, the B-1 visa for business visitors, the A-visa for diplomats, the J-visa for exchange program visitors and the I-visa for media members.

Visa glossary

There are dozens of different visa categories managed by multiple federal agencies. As a result, there is a seemingly infinite amount of specialized words reporters need to know to cover the system. This glossary provides definitions of those words, such as: “nonimmigrant,” “derivative,” “naturalization” and “overstay.”

State department annual reports

The U.S. Department of State releases visa report each year. The reports provide quantitative information on how many visas were issued across a four-year period. In 2014, the annual report shows that there were 467,370 immigrant visas issued.

Securities and Exchange Commission reports

Houston emphasized the importance of also keeping a business mindset when investigating visa issues, and SEC.gov in a premier resource for company reports and financial filings.

By using an advanced search, reporters can search for key words.

10-K filings are annual reports publically traded companies are required to file.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reports

Immigration and customs maintains a valuable set of data and documents online.

Just one example of the many federal reports released on visa statistics. Click on the image to view this report.

Screen capture on April 20, 2015.

Just one example of the many federal reports released on visa statistics. Click on the image to view this report.

This report on student and exchange visitors, for instance, includes everything reporters need to know for a basic overview on F, M and J-visas. According to the report, there are nearly 100,000 F and M students in the United States, as well as about 230,000 J-1 exchange visitors.

There are also 8,976 certified schools that can accept international students.

Other resources:

The Government Accountability Office, the Department of Labor, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Congressional Research Service, PACER, the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, and various inspector generals all have more information on visas, too.



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