Abstract: Starting Points: Divergent Trajectories of Asset Building Among U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Starting Points: Divergent Trajectories of Asset Building Among U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Laveen B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Yingying Zeng, Ph.D Candidate; MSW; MSP;, Doctoral student, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO
Background: Immigration laws determine who can enter the United States, creating and reinforcing the vulnerability experienced by immigrants. Immigrants who ultimately attain lawful permanent residence (LPR) enter with various legal statuses, or “starting points”, that stratify their access to postmigration, pre-LPR resources and have great implications for their economic integration and well-being in the United States. Informed by the framework of determinants of asset holding (Beverly et al., 2008), this study examined whether immigrants’ initial legal statuses are associated with ordered differences in their post-LPR asset building performance.

Methods: This study employed two waves of the New Immigrant Survey data (N = 2,933). The three dependent variables were obtained from Wave 2, including the ownership of a bank, investment, or retirement account (1 = yes and 0 = no). Initial legal status was measured in five categories (Kreisberg, 2019): employment visa, family reunification visa, refugee visa, diversity visa, and being undocumented. Analyses began with a descriptive overview of the three types of assets and sociodemographic characteristics of the immigrants across the five initial legal statuses. Next, logistic regression analyses of the three binary outcomes were conducted, with stratification components—premigration human and financial capital and postmigration resources—added sequentially. The full models were added with the control variables. Model-predicted probabilities were provided to best present the ordered differences in asset ownership across the initial legal statuses. All analyses were based on the imputed data set. Pairwise comparisons were conducted to test whether the differences among the predicted probabilities were statistically significant.

Results: We found that initial legal statuses were associated with immigrants’ asset building outcomes despite years-long permanent residency in the U.S. Employment-based immigrants accumulated advantages over nonemployment-based immigrants, particularly in holding assets with higher returns; their better-off conditions were largely explained by greater access to postmigration, pre-LPR resources, including legal right to work, job quality, and U.S. college degree. Family reunification immigrants showed advantages over immigrants with refugee and diversity visas in holding income-generating assets but had a similar position to previously undocumented immigrants, when pre- and postmigration resources and sociodemographic characteristics were accounted.

Implications: The explicit disaggregation of LPRs by their initial legal status expands on previous scholarship identifying differences in assets among immigrants. It could contribute to studies addressing new forms of stratification among immigrants based on their starting points. Findings suggest that immigrants, even after living with LPR status for years, generally have lower probabilities of owning assets; the disadvantages are clearest among nonemployment immigrants who have fewer institutional supports. With an emphasis on postmigration resources, this study calls for federal, state, and local policies that expand immigrants’ financial access and remove barriers that undocumented immigrants face in accessing education and legal employment. This study also addresses an urgent need to strengthen immigrant-related training in social work education, especially macro content regarding the legal and economic context, to understand the complexities of immigrants’ milieu.