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Here we go again. On January 20, 2021, President Biden sent the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 to Congress. On February 18, 2021, Representative Sánchez (D-CA) introduced the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 in the House. On the same day, Senator Menendez (D-NJ) introduced an identical bill in the Senate.
From a macro level, the bill includes changes that will strengthen and improve our legal immigration system, reunify families who have been separated by years long visa backlogs, and provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers and other undocumented people residing in the United States while, at the same time, addressing the root causes of migration to the United States from Central America.
Let me focus on the one area which, in the Trump administration, caused so much consternation among the far right-wing of the Republican Party that it caused “the wall” to become one of the central pillars of Trump’s immigration policy.
President Biden’s immigration bill creates an earned roadmap to citizenship for undocumented individuals. Specifically, the bill allows individuals in the United States without status to apply for temporary legal status, with the ability to apply for green cards after five years, if they pass criminal and national security background checks and they pay their taxes. In addition, “Dreamers,” those in temporary protected status, and immigrant farm-workers who meet specific requirements are, under the legislation, eligible for green cards immediately. Furthermore, after three years, all those green card holders who pass additional background checks and also demonstrate knowledge of English and U.S. civics can apply to become U.S. citizens.
There are other requirements too, including a requirement that applicants must have been physically present in the United States on or before January 1, 2021 (although the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) can waive the physical presence requirement for those who were removed on or after January 20, 2017 (i.e., Trump’s inauguration day) if they were physically present for at least three years prior to their removal, in the interest of family unity and other humanitarian purposes). Finally, President Biden’s bill address some Progressive’s concerns by changing the word “alien”to “noncitizen” throughout our immigration laws and regulations.
As constructed, the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) has three primary approaches to addressing unauthorized individuals in the United States: removal / deportation, deterrence (e.g., imposing criminal sanctions on employers who hire unauthorized or undocumented workers, etc.), and to a far lesser degree, legalization (which exists today in the form of, e.g., asylum and other humanitarian provisions of the INA, but not nearly at the level that’s needed to address all the individuals in the United States who are here without status).
This notion of a pathway to permanent residence (or possibly even U.S. citizenship) has been problematic for many or even most Republicans for as long as I can remember. I feel like I’ve written about it seemingly forever. The original “Dream Act” dates back to 2001. That year, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (the original “DREAM” Act) was introduced in the 107th Congress. It provided a pathway to lawful permanent resident (i.e., “Green Card” or “LPR”) status for eligible individuals. In most cases, Green Card holders must first have resided in the United States for five years before they could naturalize. However, instead of the focus singularly being on the 11 to 13 million unauthorized individuals in the United States, and the diametrically opposite policy choices of somehow either removing all of them or “regularizing” them in the United States, the focus shifted to a subset of that overall population.
That is, the original bill in 2001 provided immigration relief to what was referred to as “unauthorized childhood arrivals” who, like the larger unauthorized population, were typically also unable to work legally and were also subject to removal from the United States. But many policymakers, and indeed the majority of the general population today, viewed and continue to view this portion of the unauthorized population more sympathetically than unauthorized immigrants on the whole because unauthorized childhood arrivals had arrived in the United States as children, generally through no fault of their own, and consequently, they were not seen as being responsible for their unlawful status.
Whether we continue to focus on the overall unauthorized population, or the subset of that population now commonly known as the Dreamers, the reality is the problem of any or all of them being here is not going to go away until we as a nation take steps to resolve the issues of why they came here in the first place and, now that they’re here, what we do with (and for) them.
From an economic standpoint, President Biden has history on his side that some sort of legalization program would be a boon for the U.S. economy; that is, the notion of legalizing unauthorized individuals is not only a humanitarian gesture, but it will also create an economic benefit to the United States. Studies show that individuals who are in the United States lawfully earn more than those who are unauthorized. What’s more is that these extra earnings generate more tax revenue for federal, state, and local governments; they also result in more consumer spending which sustains more jobs in U.S. businesses. There’s no shortage of substantive economic (and legal) arguments why President Biden should not fight, and fight hard, to get his legislation passed.
The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 is President Biden’s first, and may end up being his best (and only), effort to address these incredibly important issues. I hope that Americans, all of us, can get our acts together and support this sensible and reasonable solution to a problem that has vexed our policymakers for generations. The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 is legislation that builds upon the contributions of immigrants in and to the United States, reunites families, strengthens our economy, expands humanitarian protection programs, and importantly, provides legal status and ultimately citizenship for the 11 to 13 million unauthorized individuals, young and old, who currently live in the shadows. Let’s create some sunlight for them.
 There’s probably two subsets that have received attention, the second one being agricultural workers. I’ll save that discussion for a separate article.
Haven’t we been down this road before? Many times now? Will we be reading about Comprehensive Immigration Reform 2.0, 3.2, or Version 7? I don’t know how to characterize it anymore. Or are we instead heading into a period of Executive Orders to effectuate change because, despite the Democrats being in control of Congress, there’s no desire (seemingly) by Republicans to work with their Democratic counterparts across the aisle for meaningful, and yes, comprehensive immigration reform? Time will tell.
Suffice it is to say, we should all keep an eye on the news during the first 100 days of the Biden Administration to see what unfolds. The President’s campaign promises were bold. Candidates’ election promises almost always are. And then, with victory in hand, the cold reality of actually governing sets in.
I personally sat in front of my television and watched President Biden’s inauguration speech in real time. It gave me hope, not only after having watched the events unfold at the Capitol building two weeks earlier, but after four long years of dealing with Donald Trump and his evil minion Stephen Miller, the tone was actually postive. At long last, someone else would be occupying the White House, and the Democrats controlled Congress, slim as their margin in both houses may be.
So, with that, President Biden, on January 20, 2021, sent the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 to Congress. Highlights of the proposed legislation include changes to strengthen and improve our legal immigration system, reunifying families who have been separated by years long visa backlogs, and providing a path to citizenship for Dreamers and other undocumented people residing in the United States while, at the same time, addressing the root causes of migration to the United States from Central America. There’s so much more in the bill.
The bill is strikingly similar in so many respects to a predecessor bill introduced years ago by a bipartisan group of Senators, known then as the Gang of 8, during the second term of the Obama Administration. No surprise in the current environment, the only two remaining Republican Senators from that group are no longer interested in supporting President Biden’s proposal. Go figure.
So, as Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Representative Linda Sánchez (D-CA) lead the introduction of the U.S. Citizenship Act in their respective congressional chambers, President Biden is busy at work, signing Executive Orders which, in the immediate term, will reverse President Trump’s executive order excluding undocumented immigrants from the reapportionment count, preserve and fortify protections for Dreamers, reverse the Muslim Ban, repeal President Trump’s interior enforcement Executive Order, and stop construction on the border wall, among other actions.
Governing by Executive Order is of course not the preferred means, but as I wrote some time ago, according to the American Immigration Council, between 1956 and 2014, 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. So, here we go again.
President Biden has repeatedly voiced his commitment to ending the Trump administration’s inhumane and unfair immigration policies and, in doing so, laying out his own bold and expansive agenda that will ensure our immigration system reflects our values and undergoes the reform that we all agree is desperately needs. Day 1 of the Biden Administration has now come and gone. He has at least honored his promise to get the ball rolling by introducing the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 to Congress, and by signing a myriad of Executive Orders to lessen the toll of the Trump Administration’s terrible immigration policies. Let’s see where it goes from here.
 The Gang of 8, as they were known in 2013, included Senators Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Lindsey Graham, Bob Menendez, Marco Rubio, and Michael Bennet. Also included in that group were the late Senator John McCain, and former Senator Jeff Flake.
I started writing this blog in 2013. I’ve actually enjoyed writing (just about) every piece. It gives me time to step away from my daily practice, put “pen to paper”, and educate some of you on the complexities of my world (i.e., my law practice).
Since 2016, this article has also given me the opportunity to vent, perhaps a lot, and maybe even too much. Many of you have noticed. As if the practice of immigration law is not complex enough, it became unbelievably more so, unnecessarily in my opinion, when Donald Trump was elected as our 45th U.S. President.
Right now, the field for 2020 is narrowed down to two. The race has been fully joined. Donald Trump versus Joe Biden. What does that mean for “immigration”? A lot!
Let’s reflect back to the President’s inaugural speech. “We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and to restore its promise for all of our people.” These were just about the first words uttered by President Trump in his inaugural address. Almost four years later, given the President’s rhetoric on the campaign trail (both then and now), I continue to find it ironic that he in the same sentence speaks how “the citizens of America” would restore our country’s promise “for all of our people.”
Hindsight is 20/20. “All of our people” does not mean everyone that’s here. Nope, citizens only for our President. “Every decision on … immigration … will be made to benefit American workers and American families.” Well he’s held true to that statement. Fewer (and in some case almost no) rights for almost everyone else, whether they are lawfully living in the United States or not.
You might recall that President Trump quoted the Bible in his inaugural speech; specifically, “how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” I agree. “All of our people” should be able to remain here and live here in unity.
Joe Biden strikes me as a person of profound compassion. Among other things, his platform advocates for immediately reversing the Trump Administration’s cruel and senseless policies that separate parents from their children at our border. His platform also advocates for ending President Trump’s detrimental asylum policies, reversing Trump’s public charge rule, ending the so-called “national emergency” that bleeds federal dollars from real national security concerns to build a wall (that Mexico was supposed to pay for), and protecting Dreamers and their families. Mr. Biden also advocates for rescinding the President’s travel and refugee bans, commonly referred to as “Muslim bans.” He also advocates for restoring sensible enforcement priorities (at our border and within the U.S.).
Equally as important, Mr Biden’s platform calls for modernizing America’s immigration system, including creating a roadmap to citizenship for the nearly 11 to 13 million people who are present in the United States, have been living in the country for years, but are without status and often are here through no fault of their own. I’m all for that.
Of course, he cannot do it alone. He’ll need lots of congressional support in order to accomplish any of this. For starters, though, we must do our part. We need to vote. We need to vote like our country depends on it. Because it does.
My kids are of the age where I am still watching movies like Minions. Truth be told, I like them. Indeed, on some level, particularly with respect to their soundtracks, I think they’re made with adults in mind. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of a “minion” is “a servile dependent, follower, or underling,” generally to someone powerful (or someone who perceives him or herself to be powerful). The origin of the word is French.
I’ve used the word “minion” in these articles from time to time, generally with reference to Stephen Miller, the President’s policy advisor who reportedly is the primary architect of the President’s restrictionist immigration policy, including the President’s recent proclamations restricting entry of some foreign nationals to the United States.
On April 22, 2020, the President signed a proclamation temporarily suspending the entry of certain “immigrants” into the United States in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Exactly two months later, on June 22, 2020, the President signed yet another proclamation continuing his original proclamation and also now suspending the entry of certain “nonimmigrants” into the United States. As I’ve previously noted, the practical effect of these proclamations is not much since most embassies and consulates around the world are working at drastically reduced operations and visa issuance has all been suspended in any event since mid-March. So why did the President put out this second proclamation? As always, politics as usual. Red meat to his base.
It has always amazed me, however, that Mr. Miller, himself a descendent of immigrants, could be advocating for such restrictionist positions. According to published accounts, Mr. Miller’s family arrived through Ellis Island from what is now Belarus. His relatives fled anti-Jewish pogroms and forced childhood conscription in the Czar’s army at the beginning of the 20th century. According to news reports, the first decedent of Mr. Miller arrived in the United States knowing no English and with $8.00 in his pocket. He peddled street corners and worked in sweatshops. And by all news accounts, he worked hard and became very successful. It’s a great American success story.
Is Mr. Miller ashamed of his immigrant past? I am open to any reasonable explanation as to why Mr. Miller advocates for these anti-immigrant positions.
The President’s most recent proclamation essentially blocks access by U.S. companies and others to certain nonimmigrant workers until at least the end of 2020, including H-1B, H-2B, J-1 and L-1 nonimmigrants (and their family members). As reported in one of my local newspapers, the Albany Times Union, the President’s proclamation will negatively impact employers, families, colleges and universities, health care facilities, and seasonal businesses. The President’s proclamation will also delay America’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The H1-B is a visa that allows a foreign national to work temporarily for a U.S. employer in a specialty occupation position such as architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine and health, education, business specialties, accounting, law, theology, and the arts. The H-2B is a visa that allows a person to work in the United States for a U.S. employer in a seasonal field outside of agriculture, like a hotel worker in a resort community. The J visa refers to, among several other possibilities, an exchange visitor and under the President’s most recent proclamation is limited to those working in specific capacities, like as a camp counselor, teacher, au pair, or pursuant to the J-1 summer work travel program. Finally, an L visa refers to intracompany transferees who work in positions that require specialized knowledge or who are working in an executive or managerial capacity.
The continued use and availability of these visas to a large cross-section of U.S. businesses and industries is absolutely essential to a successful economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The premise behind the President and his minion’s policy is to protect U.S. workers, particularly as we work (no pun intended) our way through the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The White House has said that these proclamations will protect or create over half a million jobs. (Although significant, it’s a drop in the bucket when you consider the overall job loss since March 2020.)
But the President and his minion’s basic premise is still fundamentally flawed. And I’ve written about this ad nauseum in this space over the last several years. Bottom line. Immigrants, whether those here temporarily or those who strive to be here permanently, are a positive influence on the U.S. economy. You can find any number of resources that support this premise, but for those who may suspect my views, feel free to check out The George W. Bush Presidential Center’s “Economic Growth Initiative”, which does an excellent job debunking all these ridiculous myths about the negative impact of immigrants on our nation and our economy.
Forget right and left. Let’s move forward, all of us, together.
Although it feels like it’s never stopped, election season is now officially in full swing. I’ve spent the last three years whinging about our current president’s immigration policies. My feelings are no doubt clear. But where do his challengers stand on important issues like the right to counsel, the travel ban (which is now in version 3.0), legalization, and so on. What follows is the beginning of a periodic look at the Democratic candidates on these and other important issues. Let’s start with the right to counsel.
Our immigration laws are very complex. If you’re not an attorney, or if you’re an attorney but don’t practice in the area of immigration, you might be surprised to see the back-and-forth that immigration practitioners themselves engage in on various professional listservs about the meaning of a statute, rule or agency memorandum. If we as practitioners in our own specialized field often cannot understand or come to agreement as to what the Congress has written, or a Court has decided, do we really expect a pro se respondent to?
The law guarantees an individual facing removal from the United States with the right to counsel. The law does not, however, guarantee that legal counsel be paid for by the government if someone cannot afford it. The data is very clear that having legal counsel is the most decisive factor in determining whether someone will obtain a grant of legal relief before an Immigration Judge. Indeed even Immigration judges say that cases before them are resolved far more expeditiously when people are represented by counsel.
Yet only a small fraction of those who are in removal proceedings are represented by an attorney. My personal opinion is the government should establish a right to legal counsel, paid for by the government when necessary, to all people facing removal. So that’s my opinion; what do the candidates believe?
When he was mayor of New York City, Mike Bloomberg pledged $2 million to provide training for lawyers who wish to represent immigrants in immigration court. Thus far, however, he has not publicly stated whether or not he supports the right to counsel at government expense at a national level. In a piece written in 2017 for his media company, he wrote that “speedier case handling must also make a provision for the adequate legal representation that judges have called for.” He’s right.
In 2019, Senator Amy Klobuchar cosponsored S. 2113, the Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act, which would mandate that the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) provide access to counsel for all people detained in facilities administered by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (“ICE”), Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) and Health and Human Services (“HHS”).
In a response to a survey put out by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (“AILA”), Mayor Pete Buttigieg stated that he would “urge Congress to pledge funds and to work with legal service providers and state and local governments to create a system to substantiate this guarantee, building off of the success of programs like the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project.”
In response to the same AILA survey, Senator Bernie Sanders stated the following:
Currently, our immigration adjudication system is so broken that immigrants often do not receive notice of their hearings, notices are received in a language the recipients do not speak, and immigrants are sometimes even marked absent for hearings that did not even physically take place. Navigating the immigration system without legal counsel is next to impossible. To ensure that people can actually access their legal counsel, Bernie will adopt community-based alternatives to detention. When Bernie is in the White House, immigrants will have access to counsel, as well as other supportive services as they wait for their hearings.
His immigration platform, available on his website, goes further; it states that he will “ensure justice and due process for immigrants, including the right to counsel and an end to cash bail, create a $14 billion federal grant program for indigent defense, ensure access to translation and interpretation services throughout every stage of the legal process,” and “end the use of video conferencing for immigration cases.”
Interestingly, to me anyway, former Vice President Joe Biden has no public stated position on access to counsel for those in removal proceedings.
And finally, to round out the discussion, not only does President Trump oppose access to counsel in removal proceedings, his administration’s policies have made simple access to counsel so much more difficult. By way of example, his administration’s Remain in Mexico policy has made it incredibly difficult for asylum seekers to obtain information about legal service providers and, for those who have counsel, to meet with and have access to their counsel.
Providing meaningful access to counsel not only ensures that immigrants are treated fairly and appropriately in removal proceedings, but it will also makes their removal proceedings more efficient. Indeed, if more individuals are represented in removal proceedings, the currently untenable backlogs would be reduced as well.
The landmark case Gideon v. Wainwright required state courts to provide counsel in criminal cases for defendants who could not afford lawyers. Unfortunately, the immigration law, unlike criminal law, does not provide a right to counsel. While immigrant detainees are allowed to hire their own lawyers, more often than not, they cannot afford counsel. Those who cannot are often the most vulnerable in our population, including children, the mentally disabled, victims of sex trafficking, refugees, and even torture survivors. We can do better, and we should provide those who need free representation the most the right to receive it.
 See, e.g., “Access to Counsel in Immigration Court,” American Immigration Counsel, Ingrid Eagly, Esq. and Steven Shafer, Esq., Special Report, September 2016.
 AILA Doc. No. 19093005. (Posted 9/30/19)
 AILA Doc. No. 19093005. (Posted 9/30/19)
I recently sat for an interview with a reporter who is doing a series of articles on changes in immigration policies with a specific focus on our immigration court system. As I was speaking with this person, our conversation veered outside that lane, and we started talking about changes in immigration policy more broadly. We’ve seen a lot over the past year, but since Donald Trump became our president, the changes in U.S. immigration policy, whether planned or otherwise, have been dramatic. It’s probably not surprising when you have someone like Stephen Miller being the puppeteer for the marionettes.
Some have called it the “invisible wall.” The what? Yes, the invisible wall. While the President has been very public about his desire to construct a physical wall on our Southern border, slowly but surely, he and his minions are quietly and deliberately restricting and slowing the pace of legal immigration by building an “invisible wall.” We’ve seen travel bans, extreme vetting directives, the slowing or stopping of the admission of foreign workers and entrepreneurs into the United States, the ending or reduction of programs for vulnerable populations, and, most recently, obstacles to the naturalization of foreign-born soldiers in the U.S. military.
The most significant change has been processing delays at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”). Most readers of this article are familiar with the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program which, for many employers, requires a petition to be filed on or about April 1 each year for a employment start date of October 1 of the same year. Well, I recently had a case for a client where we filed their petition on April 1, 2018, and their petition was “finally” approved in November, 2019. That’s a year and a half. I will grant you that this is an extreme example, but the point remains. Case processing delays and applications backlogs at USCIS are out of control. These unprecedented processing delays affect individuals, families, and American businesses throughout the nation.
Most of my personal practice involves employment and business-related immigration. I work with employers to facilitate their access to talent in what is now a very tight job market. I work with companies that are on the cutting edge of science; colleges and universities who are educating our future entrepreneurs and investors; and health care professionals in rural areas that supply health care to underserved communities. Processing delays and case unpredictability does not help businesses in my community and beyond solve their very real staffing needs and challenges.
In April, 2019, USCIS responded to a February 2019 letter sent by 86 Members of the House of Representatives who had expressed concern (and demanded accountability) about USCIS’s processing delays. In its response, USCIS revealed that in Fiscal Year (“FY”) 2018, the agency’s “gross backlog”, that is, its overall volume of delayed applications and petitions, reached 5,691,839 cases. That number is staggering, and according to USCIS, marks a 29 percent increase since FY2016 and a 69 percent increase since FY2014. What’s more, this backlog rose from FY2017 to FY2018 despite a substantial decline in application rates and an increase in its budget during that period. That’s right, USCIS had more resources with which to process fewer new cases, yet its gross backlog still grew. I’m sorry, what?
According to a recent article in the Washington Post, there an estimated 800,000 foreign nationals who are working legally in the United States who are also waiting for a green card. Most of those in the queue are Indian nationals. According to the article, an Indian national who applies for a green card today could expect to wait up to 50 years to receive it.
What about citizenship applications? Since 2016, the processing time for citizenship applications has almost doubled, increasing from about 5 ½ months to over 10 months as of March 31, 2019.
Lawyers are now more than ever taking matters into their own hands. While it used to be the case that lawyers waited to sue the government until a client’s application or petition was denied, or perhaps waited until a case was “outside normal processing times” to sue, but processing times are so out of whack immigration attorneys have no choice but to sue.
It’s difficult enough explaining the ins and outs of our immigration system and processes to clients. Tack on the substantial costs involved in pursuing some immigration benefits (without the prospect of litigation to simply move the case along), and top it off with significant delays, and you can see why many in Congress and the media have called the delays we’re experiencing as being at crisis levels. These delays and backlogs have real impacts on individuals, families and businesses. It impacts our overall economic growth. We deserve better.
As we usher out 2019 and bring in a new year (and a new decade), let’s resolve to pass meaningful and comprehensive immigration reform, be a lot more compassionate to those of our southern neighbors who are fleeing their home countries in search of a better and safe life, and work a little harder to poke some holes and even knock down that invisible wall that’s been erected over the past three years.
 “Historical National Average Processing Time for All USCIS Offices,” USCIS, March 2019, https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/historic-pt.
My wife was listening to the news the other day about the border crisis (yes, it’s real, but certainly not in the way our President describes it) and suggested that I write about it. She’s right, I should write about it. And I will. But first, my New Years Eve debacle has one further (and hopefully final) chapter to it. (I feel like I need to finish the story.) I will be brief.
So, it’s bad enough that as the clock struck midnight on New Years Eve many of my colleagues and I were sitting at our offices or at our homes in front of our computers preparing to file temporary labor certification applications with the U.S. Department of Labor (“USDOL”) for our clients that participate in the H-2B visa program. As the New Year rang in, there were applications for approximately 97,800 workers that were about to be filed with the USDOL for a total of 33,000 H-2B visa numbers, and because of the “unprecedented volume of simultaneous system users”, the USDOL’s computer system completely hemorrhaged and shut down.
Eventually, a week later, the USDOL fixed their computers, and all the applications were filed. Shortly thereafter, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) announced that it had received enough petitions to meet the congressionally mandated H-2B cap for the second half of the government’s fiscal year for 2019. That means if an employer was not able to file its petition with USCIS on or before February 19, 2019, which was the final receipt date for new cap-subject H-2B worker petitions requesting an employment start date before October 1, 2019, then the employer was out of luck for 2019. Some of my clients were affected.
Fast forward to last week. The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and the USDOL announced, after consultation with each other and after weighing several factors, including whether U.S. workers would be harmed, that an additional 30,000 H-2B visas would be allocated for the remainder of FY2019. Sounds great, right? Well it is, sort of.
The problem is, the additional visas will be available only to applicants who have held H-2B status in at least one of the past three fiscal years (2016, 2017 and 2018). These are called “returning workers.” So that means foreign nationals who have not participated in the H-2B visa program in the past three fiscal years, or even ever, are precluded from coming being sponsored by U.S. employers who have established a need for temporary workers (e.g., seasonal, peak load, etc.). Again, I have clients that are affected.
Case in point. I have two clients that are not only participating themselves for the first time in the H-2B visa program, but had identified a number of workers that were qualified to do the work their companies needed them for, but none of those foreign workers had ever participated in the H-2B visa program before.
Of course they could try to identify other workers that will meet the guidelines of the governments new rule (which has not even been published yet). But that takes time and can be expensive. And for what purpose? If the government is going to provide additional visas for the H-2B program, what sense does it make to limit the availability of those visas to foreign nationals who have been issued H-2B visas in the past? Seems pretty arbitrary to me?
The H-2B program is an absolutely necessary program for many, many employers who have seasonal or peak load business needs. The process for participating in it, however, is unnecessarily cumbersome, now seemingly arbitrary, and desperately needs to be reformed. Please, Congress, get to work and fix this.
Some of you will recall my post-New Years Eve rant about the H-2B nonimmigrant visa program, and specifically the mayhem that ensued as the clock struck midnight on New Years Eve when the U.S. Department of Labor’s (“USDOL”) servers had a meltdown. As the New Year rang in, there were applications for approximately 97,800 workers that were about to be filed with the USDOL and, because of the “unprecedented volume of simultaneous system users”, the USDOL’s computer system completely hemorrhaged and shut down. There was, according to the USDOL, over thirty times the user demand this past New Years Even compared to the previous year. Doesn’t that tell you something about the need for the H-2B visa program.
One week later – on a Monday – in the middle of the afternoon during a normal workday – the USDOL finally got its act together and most of the H-2B filings that were supposed to be filed on New Years Eve were filed. So, what happened after that?
Well, for one thing, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) recently announced that it has received enough petitions to meet the congressionally mandated H-2B cap for the second half of the government’s fiscal year for 2019. That means if an employer was not able to file its petition with USCIS on or before February 19, 2019, which was the final receipt date for new cap-subject H-2B worker petitions requesting an employment start date before October 1, 2019, then the employer was out of luck for 2019.
This is yet another example of a visa program that is desperately in need of reform and is woefully mismanaged.
In what can only be described as a glimmer of marginal and limited hope for some of our clients, on February 15, 2019, President Trump signed an omnibus spending bill which includes a provision providing limited cap relief to H-2B employers during FY2019. The Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, has yet to announce how many additional H-2B visas will be made available for the remainder of FY2019.
The second thing that happened is the USDOL updated its procedures for processing H-2B applications. That is, the USDOL has proposed a rule that for all H-2B applications filed on or after July 3, 2019, which is the earliest an employer can start the H-2B process for FY2020, applications will be randomly ordered for processing based on the date of filing and the start date of work requested.
Some of you will recall previous rants of mine related to the H-1B program, and specifically USCIS’s use of a “lottery” system to determine which employers’ petitions (who wish to hire foreign workers in “specialty occupations”) it will accept, and which it will reject. I counsel my clients who we file H-1B petitions for with USCIS to “keep their fingers crossed.” Imagine that a client hires you, pays you your fee, and you tell them to “keep their fingers crossed” that USCIS simply selects their petition – in a lottery system. The system is ridiculous.
Politics aside, the United States is experiencing a strong economy with record-low unemployment. The H-2B program’s congressionally mandated cap of 66,000 visas is entirely inadequate to meet the seasonal needs of the many businesses that participate in the program. And for all the nay sayers who say “Hire American”, this program requires employers to recruit for available U.S. workers. In most cases, they’re aren’t any for these positions. And quite candidly, if everyone would allow for a moment of truth, U.S. workers simply do not want to do the jobs that are generally utilized in the H-2B program. It’s just that simple.
According to the H-2B Workforce Coalition, if Congress does not take immediate steps to raise or eliminate the H-2B cap, over 70% of seasonal positions for the second half of fiscal 2019 will go unfulfilled due to cap limitations.
Our government must come up with a better and more equitable system within which employers can hire the help that they need. The H-2B program is an absolutely necessary program for many many employers. The process for participating in it, and the ability to participate in it, however, needs to be totally reformed.
Recall that the H-2B visa program requires employers (or their attorneys) to sit by their computer at the stroke of midnight (on the east coast anyway), on New Years Eve, requiring them to hit “submit”, tens and sometimes hundreds of times, so they can participate in a visa program to fill necessary positions with their company.
USDOL indicated that employers had prepared 5,400 H-2B applications, which were in a queue to be submitted to the USDOL, seeking a total of 97,800 workers.
You can’t make this stuff up. This is the world that I and a few other local colleagues of mine work in.
So, I asked my wife what she wanted to do to bring in the New Year (not that we usually do anything more than have dinner with some close friends), with the caveat that no matter what it was, I had to be home … in front of my computer … at midnight … because I had work to do. That’s right, many of my colleagues and I (on the East coast anyway) were at our offices or at our homes in front of our computers working as the clock struck midnight. And then mayhem ensued, and I promise you, it was not fireworks or noisemakers. Let me explain.
One of the visa programs that some of my clients use is the H-2B nonimmigrant visa program. 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 (e.g., landscape workers, ski resort employees, etc.). Before doing so, however, 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 a recruitment period.
Like some other visa programs, there is an annual numerical limitation for this visa program; specifically there are 66,000 H-2B visas that are available in each government fiscal year. Also like some other visa programs, there are more companies filing applications for a temporary labor certification from the USDOL than there are visa numbers available.
Of the 66,000 worker positions that are available annually, 33,000 are allocated to each half of the fiscal year. This allows industries that traditionally have opposite seasons (e.g., summer beach resorts v. winter ski resorts) to have a “fair” chance at participating in the H-2B program to obtain necessary temporary workers. Because of the incredible demand associated with the H-2B program (indeed even our President allegedly uses this program for his resorts), H-2B applications are now date and time stamped to the millisecond in order to establish the order of submission. Applications are processed by the USDOL in the order that they’re received. And for the second half of the government’s 2018 – 2019 fiscal year, the period for filing a temporary labor certification with the USDOL commenced one millisecond past midnight on New Years Eve.
As the New Year rang in, the USDOL later reported that there were applications for 97,800 workers that were about to be filed by an “unprecedented volume of simultaneous system users.” The USDOL noted there were 22,900 server login attempts on January 1, 2019 versus a mere 721 attempts in the same period on January 1, 2018. Not surprisingly, the government’s online filing system crashed. The exchange that went on over the next couple of hours, well past midnight, on the American Immigration Lawyer Service’s (“AILA”) H-2B attorney Listserv, bordered on a combination of sad, pathetic, and ridiculous. It was also really so unnecessary.
Readers of this piece know how much I long for meaningful reform to our immigration system. There are many substantive examples that I’ve written about over the past few years. This is not one of them. This is a procedural reform, somewhat selfishly written for sure (as anyone who knows me knows that I can barely stay up to 9:00 pm on a normal day), but it’s important.
What kind of program requires employers (or yes, even their attorneys) to sit by their computer at the stroke of midnight, on New Years Eve no less, requiring them to hit “submit”, tens and sometimes hundreds of times, so they can participate in a visa program to fill necessary positions with their company? And in today’s day and age, what kind of government is so ill-equipped to handle the unprecedented volume that they themselves created? Was the system not adequately stress tested? Was no one monitoring it (perhaps in light of the current government shut down)?
As annoying as this whole debacle has been, it’s not missing New Years that bothers me. Everyone who knows me knows that I’m usually sleeping at the stroke of midnight in any event. It’s that our government can’t come up with a better and more equitable system within which employers and their counsel can work to get things done. It really is ridiculous. The H-2B program is an absolutely necessary program for many employers. The process for participating in it, however, is unnecessarily cumbersome and needs to be reformed
For those companies (or their attorneys) filing outside of the eastern time zone, the filing time was an hour earlier for each time zone west you go.
 At that time, the USDOL indicated that employers had prepared 5,400 H-2B applications, which were in a queue to be submitted to the USDOL, seeking a total of 97,800 workers.
Should the title be Immigration Reform 2.0 or 22.0? Maybe Immigration Reform Redux? Really, how many times have we started down this road, only to be disappointed (or, at least that’s the way I feel anyway)? Well, we’re starting down this path … yet again (albeit with some difficulty). So what’s the latest iteration?
On January 25, 2018, the Trump Administration House released its “Framework on Immigration Reform and Border Security”, a one-page outline of its plan to legalize the status of so-called “Dreamers” in exchange for what it calls sweeping reforms to the immigration system. The reforms are hardly sweeping, but they are dramatic.
The President’s framework proposes significant cuts to the “legal” immigration system (i.e., U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident family members sponsoring their own qualified family members, e.g., possibly spouses, children, parents and siblings). This is referred to as eliminating “chain migration” or as the White House is calling it, “protecting the nuclear family.” The President is also looking for massive funding for border security and interior enforcement, including $25 billion for the border wall as well as more spending for Customs & Border Patrol and Immigration & Customs Enforcement agents. The President is also calling for the elimination of the Diversity Visa Lottery Program.
In exchange for all of this, the President’s plan would offer legal status to young people who currently have DACA status or who are otherwise DACA-eligible (estimated to be about 1.8 million people), including an opportunity to apply for citizenship after waiting a minimum of 10 years.
Not surprisingly, there’s been a public outcry against it from the Democrats and their progressive base. The official statement from the American Immigration Lawyers Association (“AILA”) reads as follows:
This proposal isn’t a serious effort to reach a deal on the crisis created by the administration when it terminated the DACA program. The dubious relief it offers to a questionable number of Dreamers is dwarfed by its offensive assault on families, the waste of tens of billions of taxpayer dollars on harsh enforcement that does next to nothing to improve national security, and a repudiation of Constitutional principles of due process. This proposal is completely untethered from common sense, decency, or American values.
There are several angles from which I could argue against the President’s “framework”, but I will limit myself to his efforts to end what he calls “chain migration” and the economics of that.
Every year, over 1 million new immigrants (i.e., Green Card holders) are admitted to the United States. About half of these individuals are the first in their family to permanently settle in the United States. The other half are joining their family members who arrived earlier. This is commonly known as “chain migration.” The starting point for these new immigrants may have been different (e.g., the family-based Green Card process, the employment-based Green Card process, or perhaps refugees who were resettled in the United States, among other possibilities). Ultimately, though, these permanent residents and perhaps eventual citizens of the United States can thereafter start to bring their own or other family-members to the United States.
The contributions of family-based immigrants to our U.S. economy, to our local communities, and frankly to the national fabric are great. The data suggests that they account for a significant portion of the United States’ domestic economic growth, contribute to the well-being of our current and future labor force, and play a key role in business development and community improvement. They are also the most upwardly mobile segments of the labor force. Here’s some data from the Migration Policy Institute.
- Immigrants accounted for 17%, or 27.6 million, of the 161.8 million persons in the civilian labor force in 2016.
- Of the 26.2 million employed foreign-born workers ages 16 and older in 2016, the largest share, at almost 32%, worked in management, professional, and related occupations.
A 2016 panel put together by the National Academies of Science Engineering and Medicine found that “immigration is integral to the nation’s economic growth. The inflow of labor supply has helped the United States avoid the problems facing other economies that have stagnated as a result of unfavorable demographics, particularly the effects of an aging workforce and reduced consumption by older residents.” Among its findings:
- Immigration has an overall positive impact on long-run economic growth in the U.S.
- In terms of fiscal impacts, while first-generation immigrants are more costly to governments, mainly at the state and local levels, than are the native-born, in large part due to the costs of educating their children, as adults, however, the children of immigrants (the second generation) are among the strongest economic and fiscal contributors in the U.S. population, contributing more in taxes than either their parents or the rest of the native-born population.
I could go on, and I am sure that those who oppose my views would come up with their own data to contradict mine.
In 1965, liberals and conservatives in Congress compromised their differences and created an immigration model that would favor “family unification.” That’s the system we have today. By no means is it perfect. If we restrict it, however, we will no doubt negatively impact our country’s economic growth.
Family-based immigration is essential to our economic growth, not only because of immigrants’ contributions in the workforce, but because the current policy does indeed attract the talent we hope to bring and need to bring from around the world. The United States trains entrepreneurs and other highly skilled individuals from across the world at our renowned universities. We want them to stay, to build companies and drive innovation right here in the United States. Consider, for example, that the current CEO’s of Tesla, Google, and Amazon were all born overseas. Many well-known companies would not exist at all if our immigration system had not enabled their founders or their parents to move to the United States in the first place.
If we create obstacles for individuals to bring their relatives to the United States, we will no doubt lose them to other countries with more progressive immigration regimes. We need to remind ourselves that “chain migration” is not a threat to the United States, but rather an essential economic strategy.
 The White House officially defines this as follows: The process by which foreign nationals permanently resettle within the U.S. and subsequently bring over their foreign relatives, who then have the opportunity to bring over their foreign relatives, and so on until entire extended families are resettled in the country.
 In 2016, about 1.49 million foreign-born individuals moved to the United States, which was a 7 percent increase from the 1.38 million that entered in 2015.
 “Civilian labor force” is defined as civilian persons ages 16 and older who were either employed or unemployed but looking for work in the week prior to participation in the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) and Decennial Census.