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What Does November’s Election Mean for Immigration? A lot.

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.

Trump’s Restrictionist Immigration Policy Could Delay America’s Economic Recovery

architectphotoMy 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.

Election 2020: The Right to Counsel in Immigration Court Proceedings

vote2020Although 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.

 

[1] See, e.g., “Access to Counsel in Immigration Court,” American Immigration Counsel, Ingrid Eagly, Esq. and Steven Shafer, Esq., Special Report, September 2016.

[2] https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2017-03-08/fix-immigration-without-sacrificing-innocent-children

[3] AILA Doc. No. 19093005. (Posted 9/30/19)

[4] AILA Doc. No. 19093005. (Posted 9/30/19)

[5] https://berniesanders.com/issues/welcoming-and-safe-america-all/

The Invisible Wall

border wall.jpgI 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.

 

 

[1] “Historical National Average Processing Time for All USCIS Offices,” USCIS, March 2019, https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/historic-pt.

More H-2B Visas Allocated But Only For Returning Workers

female scientistMy 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.

New Years Eve 2019 – The Epilogue (When the Broken Immigration System Broke)

computercrashSome 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.[1]  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.[2]  There was, according to the USDOL, over thirty times the user demand this past New Years Even compared to the previous year.[3]  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.[4]  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.[5]

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.

[1]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.

[2]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.

[3]Seehttps://www.foreignlaborcert.doleta.gov/.

[4]The USDOL reported that there were approximately 4,195 H-2B applications covering more than 79,500 workers positions.  Seehttps://www.foreignlaborcert.doleta.gov/.

[5]Seewww.h2bworkforcecoalition.com.

A BROKEN Immigration System: The New Year’s Eve H-2B Debacle

computercrashYou 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.[1]

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.”[2]  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

[1]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.

[2]  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.

Immigration Reform 2.0: President Trump’s Proposal for Dreamers

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????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.”[1] 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.[2]  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.[3]
  • 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.

 

 

[1]  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.

[2] 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.

[3] “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.

What is this “Diversity Visa Program” that President Trump is Talking About?

dreamstime_xs_62076674-copyOn 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.[1]   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.[2]  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.[3]  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.

 

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

U.S.C.I.S. Proposes the International Entrepreneur Rule

imm_2I originally wrote about this last Fall, but given the current events in Washington, the general chaotic environment that my colleagues and I are practicing in, and the great concern that clients are showing about their future prospects of remaining in the United States (whether they are here lawfully or not), I thought it appropriate to provide a positive update for the alien entrepreneurs out there.

On January 17, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) published a final rule to improve the ability of certain alien start-up founders to begin growing their companies within the United States and help improve our nation’s economy through increased capital spending, innovation and job creation.

Under the new rule, effective July 17, 2017, DHS may use its “parole” authority to grant a foreign national a period of authorized stay (that is, temporary permission to be in the United States), on a case-by-case basis, to those alien entrepreneurs who demonstrate that their stay in the United States would provide a significant public benefit through the potential for rapid business growth and job creation. Those who are eligible may be granted a stay in the United States for up to 30 months, with the possibility to extend the period for an additional 30 months if they meet certain criteria, and in the discretion of DHS.

Here are the specifics. An applicant for parole would need to demonstrate that he or she meets the following criteria.

1. First, that the applicant possesses a substantial ownership interest in a start-up entity created within the past five years in the United States that has substantial potential for rapid growth and job creation.

2. Second, that the applicant has a central and active role in the start-up entity such that the applicant is well-positioned to substantially assist with the growth and success of the business.

3. Third, that the applicant can prove that his or her stay will provide a significant public benefit to the United States based on the applicant’s role as an entrepreneur of the start-up entity by:

A. showing that the start-up entity has received a significant investment of capital from certain qualified U.S. investors with established records of successful investments;

B. showing that the start-up entity has received significant awards or grants for economic development, research and development, or job creation (or other types of grants or awards typically given to start-up entities) from federal, state or local government entities that regularly provide such awards or grants to start-up entities; or

C. showing that they partially meet either or both of the previous two requirements and providing additional reliable and compelling evidence of the start-up entity’s substantial potential for rapid growth and job creation.

Under the rule, parole eligibility may be extended to up to three entrepreneurs per start-up entity, as well as their spouses and children. It is important to note that alien entrepreneurs will be only be eligible to work for their start-up business.

This recently published final rule is a legacy of former President Obama. Some of you will recall that back in 2014, because of Congressional inaction, former President Obama vowed to take whatever steps he could, short of legislation, to advance his immigration agenda, and in this case, to make it easier for alien entrepreneurs to start up or scale up their businesses. Well, he made good on his promise. (Let’s hope our current president keeps this in place, or even improves upon it. There has been a smattering of news that suggests that he may try to kill it.)

A few other important points related to all of this. First, and significantly, there is no required wage obligation for the alien entrepreneur parole beneficiary. However, to maintain parolee status, the alien entrepreneur must maintain a household income that is greater than 400 percent of the federal poverty line for his or her household size as defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”). HHS revises these guidelines annually.

The new rule also requires the alien entrepreneurs to immediately notify U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) of any material changes that could reasonably affect USCIS’s determination that the alien entrepreneur provides, or continues to provide, a significant public benefit to the U.S.
Finally, USCIS has indicated that the required investment and revenue amounts will be automatically adjusted every three (3) years by the Consumer Price Index and USCIS will post the required amounts on its website.

As I have previously mentioned, the investment thresholds appear not to be overly-burdensome. The rule also seems to recognize that new businesses are not all funded the same way, and provides flexibility for entrepreneurs using new or novel funding models.

So that’s the good news. The bad news continues to be that there’s no “next step” for when the entrepreneur’s parole period comes to an end. That is, unless a foreign national has a vehicle in place to become a lawful permanent resident (i.e., a Green Card holder), under the rule, they will not be allowed to change their status from their parole status to some other type of lawful nonimmigrant status while they’re in the United States. That means the entrepreneur would have to leave the United States, try to apply for a temporary visa abroad, and then re-enter the United States (assuming that’s even a viable option).

So, progress? Yes. Panacea for foreign national entrepreneurs? Not totally, but it is for sure a step in the right direction. Let’s hope it stays in place and Congress and our President improve upon it.

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