University of Oxford

Policy Cycles And Subsystems In The Us Immigration Policy


It is quite tricky to find a comprehensive definition of policy but it may be defined as a set of actions that are created with the main purpose of affecting and influencing how decisions are made. There is a distinct difference between laws and policies. The former are used to prohibit or allow actions while the latter are mostly use to guide decisions so that certain results may achieved. Policies are synonymous with government institutions but this is not the only group that can be associated with the term. Policies re made in institutions, private organizations, a team and maybe some individuals too. (Spitzer, 1987)

The Department of the Premier describes a number of stages that make up a policy cycle. They include the following

  • Agenda setting
  • Policy formulation
  • Decision making
  • Policy implementation
  • Policy evaluation

The essay will attempt to explain what each stage of the policies involved and these will be done in relation to the US immigration policy.

Agenda setting

Before any other work on policy can begin, there is a need to pick out important issues. Agenda setting involves selecting the most outstanding problems plaguing society at that moment. This means that the government or other group with vested interests in policy making needs to identify problems that require a form of intervention by policy formulators. There are a range of social, economic, political issues that will determine the items that make it to the agenda list.

Most groups normally set the agenda by checking what kind of issues have gained a lot of public attention or what kind of topics are the source of hot debate. Groups need to identify the kind of problems that have generated a lot of concern by the public or what kind of issues require the highest level of intervention by the policy makers or by government bodies. Policy makers need to careful about the kinds of triggers that may change public perception about certain issues and reason that may prompt change in a specific matter.

Policy makers need to ask themselves two major questions in this section of policy analysis. First of all, what and why there are prevailing problems surrounding certain issues. In this process, they will have to check out all the legislative, historical and current events that affects the issue governing policy making. The social and political context is normally analyzed by looking at all the key drivers in the past, the patterns or trends that are recently emerging, some of the major actors in the policy and what kind of framework will be used by the specific group. Policy makers also need to ask themselves what are the general ideas that will be involved in this policy. For instance, most of the issues put forward will have to embrace the core beliefs held by key stakeholders. (Sowell, 1981)

The first phase in the US immigration policy cycle was to identify some of the existing problems surrounding the issue. Migration was a cause for public concern because there were number of problems plaguing the country at that time. They are as follows;

1)      some immigrants needed to reconcile with their families

2)      some areas in the labor market lacked adequate members

3)      the country needs to give humanitarian assistance especially in relation to oppressive regimes

4)      the country had to embrace diversity

As it can be seen above, there are inherent political, social and economic issues that underlie the grand issues. The major economic problem was that there are some industries within the United States lacking adequate man power. Since the country cannot fulfill this need, then there is a need to look for policy guidelines in this area. (Theodore, 1964)

Also, there were some social issues facing the country. The United States has always taken pride in the fact that it accords its citizens their due right and it respects the rule of law. In an attempt top display these qualities; the government realized that there ere some countries that did not share the same sentiments. Those countries persecuted individuals who happen to belong to unwanted religions or parties. There was a need to provide guidelines on the issue of providing asylum for individuals trying to run away form such governments.

Another social issue that has deeply affected the people of the Unite States is the fact that the country does not have adequate cultural diversity in certain spheres. There are some groups that have been favored in the past thus resulting to a high influx of specific types of immigrants. Consequently, the US needed to create a balance and encourage the entrance of certain non conventional types of immigrants. This means that policy makers had to examine some of the historical migration patterns in the past in order to establish the right guidelines on this matter through immigration policy. The table below illustrates how certain numbers of immigrants exceed others and there is a need to balance them out.


Projected percentage in the Year 2010







Dominican Republic


El Salvador












Total Pop. Top 10


Total Foreign Born


Source: Historical Data (2000) U.S. Census and 2004 Yearbook of Immigrant Statistics

Policy formulation

The first step of identifying problems that need to be addressed yields a number of solutions. Consequently, policy makers are faced with the responsibility of determining what kind of options they will pursue to solve the problem.

Policy makers need to analyze a policy by designing the possible options, identifying all the potential options they could choose, they also need to think of all the effects that will come out of their decisions. It should be noted that policy changes may bring about intended or unintended effects and all these issues must be considered. Thereafter, there should an analysis of the likely impacts of the actions taken

During policy formulation, governments or other groups need to analyze policy options through conducting research on the issue. Policy makers need to equip themselves with al the necessary knowledge surrounding that specific policy. This means that books, newspapers, journals and reports concerning the issue will need to be accommodated. From these research items, policy makers then need to identify some of the possible options that can sole the agenda issue. All the pros and cons of future solutions need to be incorporated into the manner of doing things. After thoroughly examining the issue at hand, a policy maker should give his opinion on possible steps to be taken in the future. Lastly, the policy maker should then give his or her recommendation of the matter at hand. (Daniels, 1988)

After conducting a policy analysis, the next step in policy formulation is identification of policy instruments. Policy instruments may be defined as the means by which polices will be implemented. They my come in the form of infrastructural developments such as repair and construction of dams, buildings, bridges, hospitals, schools or even schools. Alternatively, policy instruments may be implemented though the use of Regulation, law or Acts passed by parliament. They may take the form of written material o be distributed to the masses. Additionally, they may come in the form of programs placed under the stewardship of public servants. All these instruments may be combined or a portion of them may be used at nay one time. A lot of care needs to be taken when deciding on the kin of policy tool to use because instruments have the ability to change the way people live their lives. Policy instruments need to be chosen depending on the available budget, the level of acceptance expected form the public and also the legal aspects that will be changed by the policy instrument.

After choosing the policy instruments, policy makers are required to engage in consultation. Consultation refers to liaising with all or most of the stakeholders in the policy process. These range from the people who will be directly affected by the policy, to the people who ensure its implementation to the people who will institute those changes. Consequently, if it was the government making a decision concerning public policy, they will have to consult within people within the body and also without.

Policy formulation also involves the coordination process. In this case, policy makers need to ensure that whatever decisions being made by the wide range of stakeholders is in line with what the government or the policy maker considers as his overall strategy. Consequently, coordination should involve adequate and good communication between various groups. It should also be noted that some governments may decide to create a coordinating committee or a permanent division so that all policies are in tune with their specific strategies.

Communication will involve raising a high level of awareness within the government body or making certain groups more aware of the kind of strategy that the government follows. (Spitzer, 1987)

In the policy formulation process, a future response by stakeholders or key actors needs to be considered for example there maybe very influential players involved in the policy process. Additionally, players may decide to represent themselves in a specific fashion within the policy cycle. They may have certain strategies that will affect the course taken by the policy process.

Some of the policy instruments adopted by the US include the use of specialized departments and specific acts and laws. The history of immigration policy illustrates ho Acts of parliaments have been common policy instrument tools. In the year 1965, the US parliament passed the Immigration and Nationality Act. The purpose of this regulation was to ensure that immigrants who had relatives in other countries were given precedence over others. Additionally, the country had higher influxes of immigrants from certain regions and was trying to promote diversity. It therefore placed a cap upon certain countries in the eastern and Western Hemispheres. Acts have also been initiated in the years 1971, 1978 and 1990. The latter regulation was introduced in order to bring in flexibility into the system. In 1990, the Immigration Act allowed higher numbers of immigrants depending on the employment and family sectors. Because these were key areas, caps could be raised in this area in order to boost employment and o encourage relatives to unite. In 1996, parliament passed the Immigrant Responsibility Act to ensure that US public services were not misused in border regions. The Act caused reduced benefits to immigrants and it also caused n increase in the patrol officers. (Bodnar, 1985)

Another policy instrument used by the US government is creation of special groups or committees. For instance in the year 2002, the US government decided to form a department of homeland and Security (DHS). This was mostly done after the September eleven attacks. Most individual did not feel safe in the country and they attributed this to poor immigration policies. Consequently, the Department was created in order to tighten these laws. It was given almost all the duties previously conducted by the Naturalization and Immigration Services. This means that the immigration policy allowed the DHS to facilitate border inspections; they were supposed to conduct all immigration services and were also accepted to take care of border enforcement.

Decision making

This is normally a task that may not be done by all the stakeholders in the policy cycle. Normally, the best option is the one that will facilitate achievement of stated objectives. Some governments may be making polices that affect a number of department. Consequently, such decisions are made according to the endorsements of a senior director. Sometimes, there may be a team given the mandate top manage the policy and this group will be responsible for the decision making process as they will stipulate the criteria for choosing the right solution. It should be noted that there are a number of countries that leave this task to a minister or to the entire cabinet. Normally, such persons are expected to adhere to the rules that given their bodies. For instance cabinet ministers will be required to follow the rules that govern the executive. Also, the power of parliament may also need to come into play here. (Daniels, 1988)

The key player in this process is the US parliament. They have the mandate to pass laws and as it has been established earlier, one of the major policy instruments used by the US in the field of immigration is through laws and regulations.

Another group that has the power to make decisions with regard to the US immigration policy are members of the US department of state and also the Department of Homeland Security. These two groups are directly concerned with immigration laws and some of their members are usually required to determine the way forward since they are well versed with all the issues surrounding the topic.


Implementation involves the application of the policy practically. It should be noted that this stage is very sensitive because it is the part that will be felt the most by the people affected by the decisions. Policy makers need to decide upon the most realistic method of implementation in light of economic, social and political repercussions that will follow thereafter.

Implementation will involve examining all the implementing bodies found in the government body. They may be government agencies or committees. They need to have the capacity to interpret policy in the right manner and they also need to implement in the right manner too. Different agencies have different capabilities for implanting policies and these should be taken into consideration during this phase.

Implementation of the US immigration policy is done in number of ways. First of all, the government issues visas only to those whop are legally allowed. These legal mandates are as a result of the Immigration policy prevailing at that time. For instance, in the year 2004, the US Department of State gave out about five million visas. This was mostly to those groups of people who had relatives in the US and wanted to join them. The other large category was made up of people who wanted to work in the United States and came form certain countries. Therefore the immigration policy that affected this implementation was the Act that placed a cap on immigrants from certain countries. Consequently, most people who come from the required countries are given visa. The process of denying applicants visa is also another method of implementing immigration policy. This is because during the process of policy formulation, there were certain criteria that were adopted to determine which individuals will be exemplified and which ones will not. (Miller, 1985)

Another method of implementing immigration policy is through deportation. Immigration policy in the year 2002 was changed in such a way that only a certain set of immigrants could be allowed into the country. For instance when it was reported that there certain prevailing health problems among immigrants, the US legislature decided to pass laws that restricted entrance of immigrants based on their health. It had been found that immigrants had high instances of tuberculosis and hepatitis. Some of them had nine times as much a chance of carrying the disease compare to native. After this policy had been formulated and passed as n Act of parliament. Immigrants who violated these health requirements were deported back to their country.

In the year 2002 the DHs was formed and their task was streamline the entrance of terrorists into the country. They implemented these by intensifying check at all airports and ensuring that only productive immigrants were allowed into the country

Implementation may also be done by denying immigrants certain rights that the Native American gets. For instance, after it had been reported that there ere too many Mexican from the across the border trying to take advantage of the public services offered by the US, parliament passed that there should be greater restriction in this are. Consequently, the state Department decided to place more federal agents in the borders so that there would be no illegal entry. They were also denied some health services. Additionally, implementation of US immigration policy has also been done through the process of random checks. This is especially in relation to immigration policy that governs the entrance of certain categories of workers. Federal agents usually do follow-ups of cases especially with regard to the temporary applicants. They try to make sure that immigrant working in the United States posses all the right paper work and that they are working in the country lawfully. These random checks can also be regarded as a form of implementation. (Briggs, 1984)

Additionally, the US immigration policy is also implemented by creating numerous backlogs in the process of applying for a visa. Individuals, who come from countries that have restrictions or countries that already have high representations in the US, will receive numerous complications when trying to get visas. This is an intentional form of inefficiency that is designed to discourage higher influxes from certain nations. Additionally, some countries may be required to wait for extra ordinarily long periods of time in order to discourage them from pursuing the visas further.

Policy evaluation

The evaluation process is the last step in the policy cycle. It can be seen as a sort of feedback process. Here, policymakers need to ensure that the policy they passed is bringing out the desired outcomes. There should be positive relationship between the results that were intended at the beginning of the policy process and policy itself. This means that there will be total assessment and reassessment of results. After measuring the effects, then changes can be made in order to make the effects more appropriate than they currently are.

Evaluation should involve the process of ascertaining that the implementation measures sought in the previous phase are the most appropriate in terms of the direction they will take some of the key recipients for instance; the working environment in corporate institutions or functions in schools.

The US immigration policy has drawn mixed reactions. Some people argue that the policy is pushing the US behind while others argue that there numerous benefits that arose. An evaluation of the policy conducted in the year 2902 found that most of the jobs that immigrants tend to do are jobs that conventional Americans would disregard. This means that they are introducing services and goods that would never have existed in the country if the Immigration policy had not been implemented. (Dye, 1976)

The immigration policy has allowed a large number of immigrants from poorer countries. The overall effect of such a move has been positive within the country. This is because the immigrants normally come to low skilled jobs. This means that the demand and pay for high skilled jobs has drastically increased and this has benefited the Native American. Additionally, low labor costs also affected overall production costs within the manufacturing sector and this has eventually brought down process of major commodities. Consequently, Native Americans have little to complain about.

However, there have been some criticisms about the policy especial in the last decade. This is because the policy resulted in the admission of a high ratio of men over women. However, the US Department of Immigration decided to make some adjustments so that they could restore gender balance and this has changed since.

Another critism brought forward by some individuals is the fact that the policy has reduced the net economic gain made by the country. Since the policy allows arrange of people to enter the United States, there have been high numbers of immigrants who may not necessarily pay tax. Statistics show that the amount of taxes paid by immigrants is slightly short of the amount put injected by the government to give them social services.


After analyzing the US immigration policy, one can see how it fits into a policy cycle. First of all, agenda setting was done by considering diversity arrangements in the US, the countries of immigrants already in the country, fears about excess entrance of immigrants and the problem of those seeking asylum. Another agenda issue was the problem of low levels of laborers in certain sectors. (Yans-McLaughlin, 1990)

Policy formulation was mainly conducted through selection of certain policy instruments. Some of them include the use of committees, and specialized departments like the Department of homeland Security and also the use of parliamentary laws and regulations. Decision making is left at the discretion of members of parliament and the Department of State. Policy implementation has been done through number of methods. For instance, through excessive delays in the process of visa application, issuance of visas and checking on validity of working documents. Lastly, the evaluation process was done through various private organizations and it was found that some of the intended consequences were reduced labor costs but the unintended effects were intensified use of public resources and high demand for low skilled labor.


Historical Data from 2000 U.S. Census and 2004 Yearbook of Immigrant Statistics

Spitzer, R. (1987): Promoting Policy Theory: Revising the Arenas of Power; Journal of Policy Studies Journal 15, 675–689, 4

Dye, T. (1976): Policy Analysis; University of Alabama Press

Theodore, L. (1964): American Business, Public Policy; Journal of World Politics, 2, 687–713, 16

Briggs, V. (1984): Immigration Policy and the America Labor Force Johns Hopkins; University Press

Miller, K. (1985): Emigrants and Exiles; McMillan Publishers

Bodnar, J. (1985): A History of Immigrants in Urban America; Indiana University Press

Yans-McLaughlin (1990): Immigration Reconsidered: History and Politics; Oxford University Press

Sowell, T. (1981): Ethnic America: A History; McGraw-Hill Publishers

Daniels, R. (1988): Chinese and Japanese in the United States; University of Washington Press

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