New Immigrant Survey

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New Immigrant Survey


The New Immigrant Survey (NIS) is a new plan for nationally representative, longitudinal studies of immigrants to the United States and their children that promises to provide new kinds of data that will help answer many of the important questions about migration and its impacts and also shed light on fundamental aspects of human development. The basic design calls for taking representative samples of cohorts of new legal immigrants and following them over time, with new cohorts selected every four or five years or whenever developments in U.S. immigration policy or conditions worldwide warrant. The sampling frame for each cohort is based on the electronic administrative records compiled for new immigrants by the U.S. government, formerly through the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and now through its successor agencies, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Office of Immigration Statistics (OIS). It consists of all adult immigrants admitted to legal permanent residence during a specified period and two types of child immigrants who would not, or might not, be found in the households of adult immigrants. The sampling frame thus includes both new-arrival immigrantsimmigrants arriving in the United States with immigrant documents acquired abroadand adjustee immigrantsimmigrants who are already in the United States with a temporary nonimmigrant visa (or, in some cases, illegally) and adjust to lawful permanent residence.

Interviews are conducted with sampled adult immigrants and their spouses and with the sponsor-parents of sampled child immigrants and the spouses of the sponsor-parents; sampled children and other children (both foreign-born and U.S.-born children) in the households of both sampled adult and child immigrants are interviewed or given assessments based on an age-eligibility schedule. Two key elements of the design are that interviews for the baseline round are conducted as soon as possible after admission to legal permanent residence and that respondents are interviewed in the language of their choice (e.g., eighty-six languages were used in the baseline round of the first full cohort, NIS-2003).

Information obtained in the interviews covers a wide range of topics, including health, schooling, marriage and family, skills, languages and English-language skills, labor force participation, earnings, financial help given to and received from relatives and friends, use of government services, networks, travel, and religion. In successive rounds, the instruments will track changes over time. A large component of the NIS survey instruments is comparable to instruments used in the major U.S. longitudinal surveys, thus facilitating comparisons of immigrants and the native born. Special attention is paid to immigrant children and the children of immigrants, including assessment of their academic abilities, skills, and achievements. As well the instruments seek immigrants ideas about the migration and incorporation process, including assessment of the helpfulness of various sources of information.

New rounds of data collection will be conducted regularly for each cohort. The design calls for reinterview every three to five years (e.g., round 2 of NIS-2003 was in the field in 2007).

The design of the New Immigrant Survey was sharpened in discussions among immigration researchers and policy makers over a period of many years. Successive panels and workshops in both the public and private sectors developed the idea of a multiple-cohort, longitudinal survey of immigrants and their children, obtaining both retrospective and prospective data and including child assessments as well as information on extended family members. Because the NIS design, based on sampling named individuals from administrative records, with its attendant challenges of locating the immigrant and providing instruments and interviewers in several languages, had never been tried before, a pilotthe NIS-Pwas carried out in 1996. The pilot both confirmed the soundness of the design, highlighted the importance of contacting sampled immigrants as soon as possible after admission to permanent residence, and provided new information on immigrants never before available (Jasso, Massey, Rosenzweig, and Smith 2000a, 2000b, 2003).

Both the pilot (NIS-P) and the first full cohort (NIS-2003, rounds 1 and 2) were investigator-initiated projects submitted to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for support and were peer reviewed. Principal investigators are Guillermina Jasso, Douglas S. Massey, Mark R. Rosenzweig, and James P. Smith. Support has been provided by NIH, via the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Institute on Aging (NIA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the INS and its successor agency USCIS. Additional support for NIS-2003 has been provided by the assistant secretary for planning and evaluation (ASPE) in the Department of Health and Human Services and by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The data are available for public use at A growing number of researchers worldwide are using the data (approximately 700 as of April 2007).

New dataand the possibility of further new dataare a catalyst for scientific imagination. Thus not only is there a reinvigorated and rigorous attack on the classical questions about immigration (e.g., selectivity and skill transferability) and incorporation (e.g., emigration, naturalization, and language acquisition) but also new themes are emerging. These include (1) a deeper exploration of the migration process, including lost documents and visa stress and their aftermath; (2) the physical and social effects of illegality; (3) the transition to English, a dynamic and democratic language; (4) shedding the habits of illegality; (5) shedding the habits of elitism; (6) a richer understanding of health changes, taking into account the separate effects of visa stress, migration stress, and the physical and social environment; and (7) the impacts of immigration on the American stratification structure.

For example, it will be possible to assess the effects of immigration on economic inequality (via the inflow both of very low-skilled and very high-skilled individuals), on racial inequality (via the inflow of highly accomplished black African immigrants, which may overturn associations of skill with race and color and ensuing stereotypes), and on gender inequality (depending on the gender gap in skills among new immigrants and within new immigrant couples). As well in the years ahead it will be possible to gain new insight into the fabled phenomenon of falling in love with English, as new immigrants and their children discover a language free of (grammatical) gender and formal-familiar distinctions (such as tu-vous in French) and limitlessly flexible. Future rounds of the New Immigrant Survey will provide a window into the twenty-first-century version of processes that built the United States, making it possible to learn how immigrants and natives increase the positive impacts of migration and mitigate its negative impacts.

SEE ALSO Colorism; Immigration; Naturalization; Phenotype; Surveys, Sample


Jasso, Guillermina, Douglas S. Massey, Mark R. Rosenzweig, and James P. Smith. 2000a. Assortative Mating among Married New Legal Immigrants to the United States: Evidence from the New Immigrant Survey Pilot. International Migration Review 34 (2): 443459.

Jasso, Guillermina, Douglas S. Massey, Mark R. Rosenzweig, and James P. Smith. 2000b. The New Immigrant Survey Pilot (NIS-P): Overview and New Findings about U.S. Legal Immigrants at Admission. Demography 37 (1): 127138.

Jasso, Guillermina, Douglas S. Massey, Mark R. Rosenzweig, and James P. Smith. 2003. Exploring the Religious Preference of Recent Immigrants to the United States: Evidence from the New Immigrant Survey Pilot. In Religion and Immigration: Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Experiences in the United States, eds. Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, Jane I. Smith, and John L. Esposito, 217253. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

Guillermina Jasso

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New Immigrant Survey