Last month I wrote about receiving a call from a friend of mine who heads up the local affiliate of a national not-for-profit. As a reminder, among its many charitable endeavors, this not-for-profit runs a summer camp for kids. Some of their employees come from overseas. My friend, his superiors, and the association that represents the interests of his and other similarly situated not-for-profits are concerned that the Trump Administration, as a result of the Presidential Executive Order “Buy American and Hire American”, is going to revamp the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program, and specifically two of its component visa categories, the Summer Work Travel program (and possibly even the J-1 Camp Counselor program).
In our telephone conversation, he asked whether there were any alternative visa options that they might be able to consider. I told him there was, the H-2B nonimmigrant visa, but that the requirements for qualifying for an H-2B visa are much more onerous than the J-1 Summer Work Travel or Camp Counselor programs.
The H-2B nonimmigrant visa allows foreign nationals who are citizens of certain named countries (with limited exceptions), to accept “temporary” non-agricultural employment in the United States. Before doing so, the sponsoring employer must first obtain a temporary labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor (“USDOL”) by establishing that there were no willing, able, and qualified U.S. workers available during the recruitment period. As this employment is temporary, the foreign national must also show “nonimmigrant intent” (i.e., that he or she has a compelling reason to return to his or her country of origin).
Like the H-1B program, there is an annual numerical limitation of 66,000 H-2B visas that are available in each government fiscal year. Under the regulations, an H-2B petition may be valid for up to one year for seasonal, intermittent, or peakload needs, and for up to three years for a one-time need. Also under the regulations, H-2B petitions may be extended for periods of up to one year, to a maximum of three years in H-2B status in some instances. To be eligible for a period of H-2B status beyond these limitations, a foreign national must remain outside the United States for at least three months. Spouses and children under 21 may hold a derivative H-4 status.
There are some key aspects of the H-2B visa program, among them, the employer identifying what its temporary need is. The job may be professional, skilled, or unskilled, and there must be a seasonal, peakload, intermittent, or one-time need for the temporary services or labor. The following definitions apply:
- Seasonal. The seasonal definition of temporary need requires an employer to establish that their need for labor is traditionally tied to a season of the year by an event or pattern and is of a recurring nature and the period(s) of time during each year in which the employer does not need the services or labor. (Note that employment is not seasonal if the period of need is unpredictable, subject to change, or considered a vacation period for the employer’s permanent employees).
- Peakload. The peakload definition of temporary need requires an employer to establish that it regularly employs permanent workers to perform the services or labor at the place of employment and it needs to supplement its permanent staff on a temporary basis due to a seasonal or short-term demand and the temporary additions to staff will not become part of the employer’s regular operation
- One-Time Occurrence. The one-time occurrence definition of temporary requires an employer to establish that it has not employed workers to perform the services or labor in the past and it will not need the workers to perform the services or labor in the future or that it has an employment situation that is otherwise permanent, but a temporary event of short duration has created the need for a temporary worker(s).
- Intermittent. Under this standard, an employer must establish that it has not employed permanent or full-time workers to perform the services or labor but occasionally or intermittently needs temporary workers to perform the services or labor for short periods.
As also noted above, before an employer can file a petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), it must first obtain a temporary labor certification from the USDOL. After a period of recruitment, the employer will file an application for temporary labor certification with the USDOL. The temporary labor certification represents an employer’s attestation of testing the labor market appropriately and in good faith to demonstrate that capable U.S. workers did not respond to its recruitment efforts or ultimately were not available (either due to lawful rejection by the employer, failure on the worker’s part to follow through or remain on the job, etc.) to perform the labor or services. Before filing the temporary labor certification, the law requires the employer to recruit for the offered position(s). This recruitment must take place within 120 days of the start date for the offered positions. Prior to the recruitment, the employer must also apply for and receive a Prevailing Wage Determination from the USDOL, which can take around 60 days to receive.
Once all of this is done, and assuming there are no available U.S. workers and the temporary labor certification is certified by the USDOL, the employer will file its H-2B petition with USCIS. It is permissible for an H-2B petition to be filed for multiple beneficiaries provided the temporary labor certification application on behalf of multiple workers entails “the same service or labor on the same terms and conditions, in the same occupation, in the same area of intended employment, and during the same period of employment.” Once that’s approved, it will be forwarded to the U.S. embassy / consulate closest to where the foreign nationals reside and that issues H-2B visas.
I have completely over-simplified this process. It’s highly technical and keeping on top of the timing is critical. However, for an employer that has the type of needs that are outlined above, the H-2B visa may be a very viable option.
 On April 18, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order entitled “Buy American and Hire American.” The purported purpose of the “Hire American” portion of the order is to create higher wages and employment rates for U.S. workers, and to protect their economic interests by rigorously enforcing and administering the laws governing entry into the United States of foreign workers. Most of the focus of the implications of this Executive Order has been on the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program. Other visa programs are clearly in the cross-hairs as well.
On Halloween, 2017, an Uzbek immigrant purposely killed eight people in New York City with a rental truck he rented from The Home Depot as he drove down a bike path in lower Manhattan and mowed down several people before crashing into a school bus. Reports indicated that the 29-year-old Uzbek immigrant, Sayfullo Saipov, had entered the United States through what is called the “Diversity Visa Lottery Program” (the “DV program”).
The dust had barely settled on the tragedy, and President Trump tweeted, “The terrorist came into our country through what is called the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery Program,’ a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based.” Not surprisingly, Senator Schumer immediately shot back, “I guess it’s not too soon to politicize a tragedy.”
So what exactly is the DV program that’s now being politicized? The diversity immigrant category was added to the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) by the Immigration Act of 1990. Its purpose was to stimulate “new seed” immigration (basically, to foster new, more varied, immigration from under-represented parts of the world).
To accomplish this, the DV program makes 50,000 immigrant visas (i.e., “Green Cards”) available annually to individuals of countries from which immigrant admissions were lower than a total of 50,000 over the preceding five years. The visas are divided among six global geographic regions according to the relative populations of the regions, with their allocation weighted in favor of countries in regions that were under-represented among immigrant admissions to the United States during the past five years. The INA limits each country to 7%, or 3,850, of the total, and further provides that Northern Ireland be treated as a separate foreign state for DV program purposes.
The qualifications are quite (or I should say deceptively) simple. First, an individual needs to be from a country that is allowed to participate in the DV program. Second, the principal DV applicant must have a high school education, or its equivalent, or two years of qualifying work experience as defined under U.S. law. The program has its supporters and detractors. Its supporters argue that the DV program provides “new seed” immigrants for an immigration system that’s weighted disproportionately in favor of family-based immigrants from a handful of countries. Detractors argue that the program is vulnerable to fraud and misuse and, as President Trump is now tweeting, is potentially an avenue for terrorists, noting the difficulties of performing background checks in many of the countries eligible for the diversity lottery. The program’s supporters counter that background checks for criminal and national security matters are performed on all prospective immigrants seeking to come to the United States, including those who have won diversity visas.
We’re now in the 2019 DV program. Approximately 14 million people around the world will apply for a visa. Only 0.3% of them will be successful. Anecdotally the DV program has been referred to as the “golden ticket”.
We can debate the policy of whether the DV program should stay or go. While the President quickly pointed his finger at Senator Schumer for being responsible for the DV program, what he failed (of course) to point out was that the legislation was overwhelming supported by Congress in 1990, and then signed into law by then Republican President George H.W. Bush. President Trump also failed to mention that proposed legislation passed by the Senate in 2014 (but which did not pass the House), led by the now defunct Gang of Eight (of which Sen. Schumer was a member), would have canceled this program.
In my view, canceling the DV program is not the answer to our problems, and will not make our country safer. The same laws are in effect to screen potential immigrants from all countries, regardless of the type visa that they enter the United States. Rather than pointing fingers in the aftermath of this terrible tragedy (which the President was not willing to do after the Las Vegas shooting when gun control would have been at issue), we should focus on the root causes to prevent future attacks and to protect all Americans from those who seek to do us harm.
 An individual qualifying with work experience must have two years of experience in the last five years in an occupation which, by U.S. Department of Labor (“USDOL”) definitions, requires at least two years of training or experience that is designated as Job Zone 4 or 5, classified in a Specific Vocational Preparation (“SVP”) rating of 7.0 or higher. The USDOL provides information on job duties, knowledge and skills, education and training, and other occupational characteristics on their website http://www.onetonline.org/. The O*Net online database groups work experience into five “job zones”. While many occupations are listed, only certain specified occupations qualify for the DV Program.
 In the “for what it’s worth” column, nationals of Uzbekistan have not been singled-out in any of President Trump’s travel ban associated executive orders … so far.
 In FY2015, the last year for which statistics are available, close to 14.5 million people from around the world applied for the 50,000 available visas.
Can someone tell me the difference between an “executive order” and a “presidential proclamation”? I don’t think I learned that in law school, and for sure it was not on the bar exam. Frankly, before September 24, 2017, I would likely have used the phrases interchangeably. And yet, as of September 24, 2017, many of my colleagues are wondering about the purported difference.
The definitions of “executive orders” and a “presidential proclamations”, including their differences, is not easy to express as the U.S. Constitution does not contain any provision referring to them. The most widely cited explanation came in 1957 from the House Committee on Government Operations, which explained the difference as follows:
Executive orders and proclamations are directives or actions by the President. When they are founded on the authority of the President derived from the Constitution or statute, they may have the force and effect of law . . . . In the narrower sense Executive orders and proclamations are written documents denoted as such . . . . Executive orders are generally directed to, and govern actions by, Government officials and agencies. They usually affect private individuals only indirectly. Proclamations in most instances affect primarily the activities of private individuals. Since the President has no power or authority over individual citizens and their rights except where he is granted such power and authority by a provision in the Constitution or by statute. The President’s proclamations are not legally binding and are at best hortatory unless based on such grants of authority. The difference between Executive orders and proclamations is more one of form than of substance . . . (Emphasis added.)
So why would the president’s first two efforts at a travel ban be in the form of “executive orders”, and his most recent effort be in the form of a “proclamation”? Frankly, I’m not quite sure, but I suspect that whether the courts find Travel Ban 3.0 to be enforceable, either in part or in total, will turn more on its substance and not by whether it’s a presidential proclamation instead of an executive order.
So, then, what’s the deal with Travel Ban 3.0? The President’s proclamation, entitled “Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public Safety Threats,” was issued by President Trump following a worldwide review of information sharing practices between the U.S. and nearly 200 foreign countries. The purported purpose was to assess whether nationals of each country seeking to enter the United States pose a national security or public safety threat to the United States. As a result of this review, eight (8) countries have been deemed to have inadequate identity management protocols, information sharing practices, and risk factors. They are Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen. It was also determined that Iraq did not meet the baseline requirements, but nationals of Iraq will not be subject to an outright ban on travel, but rather will be subject to additional screening measures.
There are exemptions under the President’s proclamation, such as the travel restrictions do not apply to lawful permanent residents (i.e., Green Card holders) of those countries, and foreign nationals who have been granted asylum in the U.S., refugees who have been admitted to the U.S., or individuals who have been granted withholding of removal, advance parole, or protection under the Convention Against Torture. There are other exemptions as well.
There are also waivers available if a foreign national can demonstrate that (a) denying entry to the United States would cause the foreign national undue hardship, (b) entry would not pose a threat to the national security or public safety of the United States, and (c) entry would be in the national interest.
Not surprisingly, the anti-administration forces argue that this is yet another attempt by the President to further his discriminatory and anti-immigrant policies and does nothing to strengthen our national security. I tend to agree.
The new travel ban goes (or went, depending on when you’re reading this) into effect on October 18, 2017, but the ban is effective immediately for anyone whose entry to the U.S. was previously barred by the administration’s prior travel ban (Executive Order 13780 dated March 6, 2017 entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”) (i.e., nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen who do not have a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States).
Also, until October 18, 2017, citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen are exempt from the new travel ban if they have a “bona fide relationship” with a U.S. person or entity. (This is actually an issue in the courts at the moment.)
And finally, unless an exemption does apply or an individual is eligible for a waiver, the restrictions of Travel Ban 3.0 apply to individuals of the eight (8) designated countries who (a) are outside the U.S. on the applicable effective date, (b) do not have a valid visa on the applicable effective date, and (c) do not qualify for a reinstated visa or other travel document that was revoked under the President’s earlier travel ban (Executive Order 13769 dated January 27, 2017 entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”).
I have written before, and no doubt will do so again, that immigrants and refugees contribute in a positive way to our nation by strengthening our local businesses, communities, and national economy. Travel Ban 3.0 will do little more than simply harm families, negatively impact our business community, and undermine our national values.
 Staff of House Committee on Government Operations, 85th Congress, 1st Session, Executive Orders and Proclamations: A Study of a Use of Presidential Powers (Committee Print 1957).
 Both executive orders and proclamations have the force of law, akin to regulations issued by federal agencies, so they are codified under Title 3 of the Code of Federal Regulations (“CFR”), the CFR being the formal collection of all of the rules and regulations issued by the executive branch and the federal agencies. Neither executive orders nor proclamations are legislation, however. Neither require approval from Congress, and Congress cannot overturn them. On the other hand, Congress can pass legislation that can make it difficult, or even impossible, to carry out an executive order or presidential proclamation. Nevertheless, only a sitting President can overturn an executive order or proclamation by issuing another executive order or proclamation to that effect.
On September 5, 2017, the Trump Administration announced that it would be ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) program. As if the 2016 presidential election post-mortem wasn’t bad enough, now this. This change of policy impacts almost 800,000 young people, the so-called Dreamers, who entered the United States before they were 16 years of age, generally through no fault of their own. Dreamers have temporary protection from deportation (to countries where they have had very little contact with in their lives). In many cases, these individuals also received employment authorization.
A little reminder as to what DACA is (and soon to be “was”). In June 2012, former President Obama’s then-Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced a program, commonly known as DACA, whereby aliens who were unlawfully present in the United States, who had been brought to the United States as children, and who met other criteria, could receive “deferred action.” These young people were basically protected, albeit temporarily, from being removed from the United States. They were able to work lawfully, attend school, and basically live their lives without the constant fear of being deported. However, unlike legislation, DACA does not provide a permanent legal status to these young people, and it needs to be renewed every two years.
Now, effective immediately, no new applications for DACA will be accepted. Current DACA beneficiaries whose status will expire before March 5, 2018 are permitted to renew their status for an additional two years if they apply by October 5, 2017. Any person for whom DACA expires as of March 6, 2018 will no longer have deferred action or employment authorization.
So how did the current state of affairs come to be? Well, then candidate Trump repeatedly pledged to end DACA (and to construct a border wall) as part of his campaign platform. Indeed, right after his inauguration, the White House prepared a draft Executive Order (which was leaked to the press) dated January 23, 2017 titled Ending Unconstitutional Executive Amnesties. The Executive Order proposed to rescind the then-proposed DAPA program immediately, which was the subject of a federal court injunction, and to also stop processing new DACA applications. So bad on top of bad.
Back in June, 2017, not seeing any movement on the President’s campaign promise, Texas and nine other states sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions stating that unless the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) agreed to “phase out” the program by rescinding Secretary Napolitano’s memo authorizing DACA and halting approval of any new or renewal DACA applications, they would take legal action to challenge DACA. President Trump caved to their demands.
In this regard, on September 4, 2017, Attorney General Sessions sent a letter to Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke stating the DACA was an “unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch” and that legal challenges to the program would “likely” result in DACA being deemed unlawful. On September 5, 2017, Acting Secretary Duke issued a memorandum officially rescinding the program.
There’s so many ways I can go with this. For today, let’s focus on Attorney General Sessions’ statement that DACA was an “unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch.”
President Obama’s administrative action was, at the time, the latest among many of his predecessors in the Oval Office who relied on their executive authority to deal with important immigration issues during their administrations. According to the American Immigration Council, since 1956, there have been at least thirty-nine (39) instances where a president has exercised his executive authority to protect thousand and sometimes millions of immigrants, in the United States at the time without status, usually in the humanitarian interest of simply keeping families together.
The Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) and its implementing regulations are replete with examples where DHS will either refrain from an enforcement action, like electing not to serve and thereafter file a charging document (commonly known as a Notice to Appear) with the Immigration Court, as well as decisions to provide a discretionary remedy when an immigrant is already in removal proceedings, such as granting stays of removal, granting parole, or granting deferred action.
The INA itself authorizes the President’s legal authority to exercise prosecutorial discretion, including by prohibiting judicial review of three (3) types of actions involving the exercise of prosecutorial discretion (i.e., the decisions to commence removal proceedings, to adjudicate cases, and to execute removal orders).
Congress has also legislated deferred action in the INA itself as a means by which the executive branch may use, in the exercise of its prosecutorial discretion, to protect certain victims of crime, abuse, or human trafficking.
Notably, the INA also has a specific provision which recognizes the President’s authority to authorize employment for non-citizens who do not otherwise receive it automatically by virtue of their particular immigration status. It is this provision, in conjunction with other regulations, that currently confers eligibility for work authorization under DACA.
Beyond this, memoranda issued by federal agencies authorized to implement and enforce our nation’s immigration laws recognize prosecutorial discretion too, including a seminal one issued by legacy-Immigration and Naturalization Service (“INS”) Commissioner Doris Meissner in 1990 to her senior agency staff. There are earlier memoranda as well opining as to the legality of prosecutorial discretion too.
Finally, the Supreme Court held in Arizona v. United States that a “[a] principal feature of the [deportation] system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials. . . . Federal officials, as an initial matter, must decide whether it makes sense to pursue [deportation] at all . . . .” Arizona v. United States, 132 S. Ct. 2492, 2499 (2012).
As a result of all of the above (i.e., the INA and its implementing regulations, Supreme Court decisions, and agency memoranda), there have been at least thirty-nine (39) instances since 1956 where a president has exercised his executive authority to protect aliens, generally in the interest of simply keeping families together.
Our history is replete with examples of U.S. presidents, in the name of prosecutorial discretion, issuing directives that provided for deferred action (or whatever they may have called it at the time) to non-citizens of the United States. Since his September 5, 2017 announcement ending DACA, President Trump has made positive comments about Dreamers, and now says he will “revisit” the program if Congress does not act. Let’s see if he has the political courage to do so.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) has now conducted two (2) sweeps in my hometown of Saratoga Springs, New York. “If you’re in this country illegally and you committed a crime by entering this country, you should be uncomfortable,” Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan recently told the House Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security Subcommittee. “You should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried.” Nice, right? No, not really. Not at all. The result? According to reports, twenty six (26) men have been picked up off the streets of their (and my) community and detained, initially at the Albany County Jail and thereafter at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia, New York. Some of them will be placed in removal (i.e., deportation”) proceedings. Others may already be in removal proceedings. Yet others may have previously been removed and later came back to the United States, presumably unlawfully. Those individuals will have their prior removal orders reinstated and will be removed again. There may be other scenarios too. I know. Some were my clients. Some are now my clients.
Public opinion is mixed as to what happened. Some good, some not so good. Here’s my take.
These individuals are fathers, husbands, brothers, cousins, and perhaps sons too. Some and perhaps all of them played very important roles in our community. In some respects, they were the backbone of our community. That is, some, and perhaps all of them, worked for businesses that we frequent. And some, although I am sure not all, worked for those business legally (e.g., pursuant to valid Employment Authorization Documents that our government issued to them while their applications for political asylum are being adjudicated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services). It’s ironic, isn’t it? On the one hand, our government issues these individuals Employment Authorization Documents so they can lawfully work in the United States while they wait for USCIS to adjudicate their asylum applications. On the other hand, ICE picks them up off the streets and then detains them.
And what about the employers who employ these workers, and particularly those who were lawfully working for them? Summer has officially started, and opening day of the Saratoga Race Course is now only weeks away. Employers in service-based industries, and particularly the restaurant and hospitality fields, are particularly affected. Quite candidly, these individuals work in jobs that the very vast majority of American workers do not want. (Trust me, it’s true.)
Is the Saratoga Race Course next? This is the time of year you see long lines in front of the race track. These are not fans going to see the races. That’s for next month. No, these are lines filled with hundreds of people hoping to get summer jobs at the track. Those jobs are for what I will call “front of the house” positions, like gate attendants who take your money, people who sell programs, and food and beverage providers. Of course there are many more.
The “many more” include the back stretch workers who are absolutely essential and who do all of the little things to make our track experience enjoyable. These are the trainers, exercise riders, jockeys, grooms, farriers, veterinarians, muckers, jockey agents, and all the other positions associated with horse racing. A great many of these workers are foreign workers. And although many of these workers are no doubt here lawfully, dare I say that some are not? Will ICE be on the race track’s doorstep next?
There are three issues that we’re dealing with here. On the one hand, what’s happening to the foreign workers who have been picked up? What about their families, some of whom are U.S. citizens? Each of their situations will be different. Each one may (or may not) have relief to stay in the United States long-term. Time will tell.
On the other hand, we’ve got the employers. Track season is the biggest part of their year, and right now those in the restaurant and hospitality industry are dealing with unexpected (and unwanted) labor issues.
And on the “third” hand, we’re in a very tight labor market right now. Saratoga Springs is fortunate to have very low unemployment. But with that comes issues associated with hiring enough workers to fill year-round labor needs, including the bump that employers need during track season.
The solution? How about an immigration system that works? One that is responsive to the legitimate needs of our business community. Unfortunately, our immigration system is broken, and it’s been broken for a very long time. But that doesn’t mean that federal law enforcement officials should be coming into our community and creating unnecessary fear among our friends, families and neighbors. What we need are meaningful and compassionate solutions from our “friends” in Washington, D.C. What’s the over – under that that will happen anytime soon?
Yet another executive order related to immigration has come from the Trump Administration, this time potentially impacting the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program. Ugh. On April 18, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order “Buy American and Hire American.” The Executive Order requires the relevant agencies (e.g., Department of Labor, Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of State) to review policies related to all visa programs and recommend changes to root out “fraud and abuse,” and to “suggest reforms” so that H-1B nonimmigrant visas are awarded to the most skilled or highest-paid applicants. “Suggest reforms”?
Clients have been calling for months now wondering when the hammer was going to come down on aspects of our immigration system unrelated to enforcement. Well, it looks like it’s about to happen. Ugh again.
The good news is that in the short-term, there should be no immediate changes or impact on the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program. And, if there are changes eventually proposed, in reviewing the President’s Executive Order, many of the changes contemplated will require legislative action, or at minimum, a lengthy regulatory rulemaking process.
But are changes even necessary? Much has been reported in the mainstream conservative media that if it’s not inaccurate, it could certainly benefit from some explanation. For example, many conservative news outlets highlight the rampant fraud in the H-1B program. The simple fact is that demonstrated instances of fraud in the H-1B visa program are actually pretty low. The vast majority of employers that utilize the H-1B program use it appropriately, and specifically because they need the skills and talent of a particular foreign worker. Those who do not can (and should) be rooted out by the current anti-fraud provisions and programs.
There’s also a myth that U.S. businesses hire H-1B workers to save money. That’s simply not true. First of all, the fees and costs associated with filing a petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) are high enough that most employers use the H-1B because they cannot locate a qualified U.S. worker to fill the position in the first place. (There’s also an argument that small businesses simply cannot afford to participate in the H-1B program, so if they do, it’s really because they’re desperate to hire the best available worker they can find.)
In addition, employers are required to pay the H-1B workers the “required wage”, which is the higher of the prevailing wage and the actual wage. So the argument that U.S. businesses hire H-1B workers to save money does not make sense.
In announcing the Executive Order, the President said that H-1B nonimmigrant visas “should include only the most skilled and highest-paid applicants and should never, ever be used to replace American workers.” Without getting into the minutiae of what his statement could end up meaning, U.S. employers who participate in the H-1B program do so because they’re able to hire the most qualified applicant they can find. That makes sense, right?
Notably, one of the changes that pundits think the President may propose is a “prior recruitment” requirement before employers are able to file an H-1B petition with USCIS for a foreign worker. Prior recruitment of U.S. workers is mostly not required in the H-1B program. Where it typically is required are some of the employment-based Green Card categories. For example, in order to file an immigrant (i.e., Green Card) petition with USCIS to qualify a foreign national for some employment-based Green Cards, employers are required to first obtain a certification from the U.S. Department of Labor (“USDOL”) that there are no minimally qualified ready, willing, able and available U.S. workers to do the job that the employer wants to offer the foreign national. “Minimally qualified”! That’s a pretty low standard. It seems to me that that’s not really what employers typically try want to do when they hire someone (i.e., hire someone who’s “minimally” qualified); that is, they try to hire the most qualified individual that they can.
Of course it remains to be seen what will actually come out of this. Any reforms proposed by the Trump Administration as a result of this Executive Order, however, must absolutely ensure that our temporary and permanent worker programs, including the H-1B nonimmigrant, remain viable and available tools for U.S. employers to use who seek to build and maintain a competitive workforce.
This is becoming a terrible annual ritual. That is, April 1 has once again come and gone, a new H-1B filing season was upon us, and on April 7, 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) once again announced that it had reached the congressionally mandated H-1B cap for Fiscal Year 2018. So the H-1B filing season, after only five (5) days (because USCIS did not start accepting petitions until Monday, April 3, 2017), is over for employers who are not eligible to file cap-exempt petitions.
The H-1B program was created so that employers can fill specialty occupation positions in their companies on a temporary basis. These are positions that typically require a Bachelor’s Degree for entry into the field. Look around today’s Capital Region, or Tech Valley as it has come to be known. These positions are vital to local employers, allowing them to be more competitive, increase growth, and yes, even create jobs for U.S. workers here.
Unfortunately, employers are being stymied by these ridiculous artificial limits which were established when I wasn’t even practicing law! And, as USCIS has done in prior years when it received well over 200,000 petitions for these coveted H-1B visas, USCIS randomly selects petitions to determine those that will have a chance at the 85,000 visas available. (Imagine telling your clients, after they’ve paid you your fees for your professional services, that a “lottery” will dictate whether their petition will be selected.)
Benjamin Johnson, Executive Director of the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association (“AILA”) was recently quoted as saying the following:
“With unemployment below 5% and an economy hungry for skilled, educated workers, why are we hampered by the arbitrary limits on this program? Instead of a lottery to funnel only 85,000 of the petitions through the process, this entire operation should be driven by market demand so that the program meets the legitimate needs of our country. Each year that we limit these visas with an artificial cap, we stifle economic growth and all of us lose out. It is an irrational system. Our immigration laws were written more than a generation ago, when Google and Amazon weren’t household names, before Twitter, Facebook, and social media itself existed. Every year that goes by without action on this and other necessary legal immigration reforms means countless opportunities lost.”
I could not agree more. The simple fact is that U.S. employers are not able to find enough, and in some cases any, highly skilled workers to fill essential positions in their businesses. There are not enough U.S. workers with advanced skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematical occupations (i.e., STEM fields) to perform the work that many high-tech companies need. Indeed, this shortage of skilled labor has forced many companies to out-source their operations abroad, something I see clients of mine struggling with every day.
I think that the arguments as to why we need to limit the amount of H-1B’s (e.g., to protect U.S. workers, wages, etc.) are generally without merit (there are some companies that endeavor to abuse the program, but in my opinion they are outliers), and the current regulations implementing the H-1B worker program protect U.S. workers, wages and so on. The simple fact is, and the evidence and literature amply supports the proposition, that the H-1B worker program impacts our economy and employment opportunities of U.S. born workers in a very positive manner.
For example, between 1990 and 2010, the increase in STEM workers in the United States under the H-1B program were associated with a significant increase in wages for college-educated U.S. born workers in 219 cities in the United States. In addition, H-1B-driven increases in STEM workers in a city were associated with an increase in wages of 7 to 8 percentage points paid to both STEM and non-STEM college educated U.S. workers, while non-college educated workers saw an increase of 3 to 4 percentage points.
What about arguments that the H-1B worker program negatively affects employment rates? Not true. The simple fact is that H-1B workers complement U.S. workers, fill employment gaps in many STEM fields, and expand job opportunities for everyone.
The evidence shows that unemployment rates are low for occupations that use large numbers of H-1B visas. For example, many STEM occupations have very low unemployment, compared to, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall national unemployment rate. This means that the demand for labor exceeds supply.
Finally, what about those that argue that the benefits of the H-1B program are limited to those involved in technology fields? Some even argue that H-1B visas are all taken by Silicon Valley companies. Some even say Microsoft and Google take them all by themselves? Again, not true. According to data published by the Brookings Institution, in the 2010 – 2011 fiscal year, there were 106 metropolitan statistical areas across the United States that had at least 250 requests for H-1B workers. And while there are admittedly a lot of H-1B workers that are filling STEM occupations, there is also a significant amount of demand for H-1B workers in healthcare, business, finance, and life science fields.
There are exemptions to the H-1B cap that some employers are eligible for (e.g., institutions of higher education, related or affiliated non-profit entities, nonprofit research organizations, or governmental research organizations), and it’s great to represent entities that have an exemption available to them. But the simple fact is, the cap should be raised, significantly, or even eliminated. The evidence is clear that the H-1B visa program enhances our economy in so many important ways.
 See, e.g., Nicole Kreisberg, “H-1B Visas: No Impact on Wages” (Great Barrington, MA: American Institute for Economic Research, 2014); Giovanni Peri, Kevin Y. Shih, Chad Sparber, and Angie Marek Zeitlin, Closing Economic Windows: How H-1B Visa Denials Cost U.S.-Born Tech Workers Jobs and Wages During the Great Recession (New York, NY: Partnership for a New American Economy, 2014); Giovanni Peri, Kevin Y. Shih, and Chad Sparber, “Foreign STEM Workers and Native Wages and Unemployment in U.S. Cities,” NBER Working Paper No. 20093 (Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2014).
 Giovanni Peri, Kevin Shih, and Chad Sparber, “Foreign STEM Workers and Native Wages and Employment in U.S. Cities” (Cambridge, MA: The National Bureau of Economic Research, 2014).
 Information Technology Industry Council, the Partnership for a New American Economy, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Help Wanted: The Role of Foreign Workers in the Innovation Economy (Washington, DC: December 2012), pp. 2-3.
 Neil G. Ruiz, Jill H. Wilson, and Shyamali Choudhury, “The Search for Skills: Demand for H-1B Immigrant Workers in U.S. Metropolitan Areas” (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 2012), p. 1.