MeBIC and Partners hold press conference for DACA solution

On December 6, 2017, MeBIC participated in a press conference in Bangor urging Congress to act before the end of the year to pass legislation creating a path to permanent residency for those with DACA status.   Speakers included former Bangor Mayor Joe Baldacci, followed by Dana Connors, MeBIC Board member and CEO of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Megan Sanders, Esq, of Penobscot County Community Health Care, Jack McKay of the Eastern Maine Labor Council and Board member of the Maine AFL-CIO, and MeBIC’s Beth Stickney.

Beginning March 6, 2018, about 8500 DACA holders each week will lose their legal protections and their work authorization, jeopardizing their ability to pay for college, to work, to serve in our military, and to contribute to their families and their communities.

It will take time for Immigration officials to get any new residency application process up and running. Congress must act before the end of this year to pass the Dream Act of 2017 or other durable solution.  Otherwise, DACA holders will face a gap in their employment authorization status that will force employers to have to lay them off, and cause the DACA holders and their employers undue hardship, even here in Maine.

See some of the media coverage here:

 

Update: Travel Ban “3.0” Litigation

On December 4, 2017, the Supreme Court issued a decision allowing the Government to carry out the third iteration of its “travel ban” while the lawsuits challenging the ban make their way through the federal courts.

While the litigation is ongoing, those targeted by “Travel Ban 3.0” will not be able to get visas or enter the U.S. unless they can prove, among other criteria, that a waiver of the bar in any individual case would be in the national interest.   As a practical matter, the average person is unlikely to be able to meet that standard.

Following this Supreme Court ruling, Travel Ban 3.0 bars U.S. immigrant (permanent residency) or nonimmigrant (temporary) visa issuance to or entry of nationals of the following countries:

  • Chad, Libya and Yemen: All immigrants and, nonimmigrant (temporary) visitors for pleasure or business.
  • Iran: All immigrants and nonimmigrants, with the exception of student and exchange (F,M and J) nonimmigrant visa holders (who nonetheless will undergo extra scrutiny).
  • North Korea and Syria: All immigrants and nonimmigrants.
  • Somalia: All immigrants. All nonimmigrants will be subject to extra scrutiny.
  • Venezuela: Certain government officials and their family members, traveling on pleasure (B-2) or business (B-1) nonimmigrant visitor visas.

The ban applies to people from the named countries who were outside the U.S. and did not have valid, previously issued, U.S. visas on the ban’s effective dates. (For some individuals, that is September 24, 2017, but for others it is October 18, 2017. Those needing further clarification should speak with a competent immigration attorney.)

It does not apply to:

  • Dual nationals using the passport of their non-targeted country.
  • Permanent residents (green card holders), or those who already have refugee, asylee, withholding of removal or Convention against Torture status in the U.S., who are from the targeted countries and are returning from travel abroad.
  • Those already granted advance parole returning from travel abroad.
  • Persons granted admission or parole into the U.S. on or after the effective dates.
  • Diplomats or those with similar visas.
  • Theoretically, it also does not apply to those fleeing persecution and seeking protection, but that exception may be meaningless in practice.

People or employers in the U.S. who want to know if a case-by-case waiver of the ban might be possible for their relative or prospective employee should consult a competent immigration attorney. However, as a guideline, waivers are extremely unlikely if the person abroad is not someone:

  • with significant past contacts, study, work, or business in the United States;
  • with immediate family members in the United States where a denial of entry would cause undue hardship (far more than the normal emotional or economic hardship);
  • with uniquely compelling circumstances (such as children at risk, adoptees, or those seeking urgent medical care);
  • employed by the U.S. government or an international organization.

How does this effect Maine businesses?

  • If you have immigrant employees from any of the named countries, be aware of their stress due to the uncertainty of when their relatives, whom they may have been expecting to immigrate soon, will be able to reunite with them here in the U.S.
  • Any employees (whether naturalized U.S. Citizens, permanent residents, refugees or asylees, etc.) from the specified countries can expect a heightened level of questioning at U.S. ports of entry following any travel abroad, despite the fact that Travel Ban 3.0 is not supposed to apply to them.  They should be advised to consult with a competent immigration attorney before making plans to travel abroad.
  • Any employee from one of the named countries who is here on a nonimmigrant work visa issued prior to the ban’s effective dates should consult with a competent immigration attorney before making any plans to travel abroad, especially if the visa would need renewal abroad before the employee could return to the U.S.

Update: International Entrepreneur Rule – Government’s delay struck down

On July 11, 2017, one week before the new International Entrepreneur Rule (IER), discussed here, was to take effect, the Administration issued a final rule delaying implementation of the IER (the “delay rule”), and requesting public comments after the fact.  The IER would have created a pathway for certain international entrepreneurs to apply for up to five years of temporary legal status (called “parole”) in the U.S. to launch their businesses, and potentially gain permanent residency in the meantime.

A lawsuit was filed by several international entrepreneurs and investors challenging the delay rule (National Venture Capital Association v. Duke). On December 1, 2017, the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia ruled for the plaintiffs, and vacated the delay rule. The Government requested a stay of the decision which was denied.

As a result, the IER, originally intended to take effect last July, is now in effect. Should the government want to rescind the IER, as it has clearly stated is its intent, it will have to issue a proposed rule and accept notice and comment before publishing a final rule.

While in theory, the Court’s ruling means that international entrepreneurs who meet specified eligibility criteria can now apply for parole for an initial 30 months to launch their businesses, parole decisions are always discretionary.

Given the Administration’s clear hostility to the rule, it remains to be seen whether applications under the IER will be adjudicated fairly, or whether USCIS will receive signals to discretionarily deny them.   This would be short sighted, given the impressive track record of immigrant entrepreneurs in the U.S.,  who will take their drive, creativity, and economic contributions elsewhere if the U.S. chooses not to make room for them.

International entrepreneurs and their U.S. partners or investors should consult with experienced immigration attorneys for further information.

Haitian “Temporary Protected Status” to end in July 2019

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on November 20, 2017 that it will end Haitian Temporary Protected Status (TPS) effective July 22, 2019.  Approximately 60,000 Haitians in the U.S. have TPS, nearly a quarter of whom have lived here for over 20 years, and many have U.S. citizen children.
TPS was created by Congress to provide individuals already in the U.S. when a natural catastrophe, or eruption or escalation of civil conflict strikes their country, an opportunity to stay and work legally in the U.S. until our government decides it is safe for them to return.   TPS is typically granted in 12 or 18 month increments, which can be extended.
The U.S. designated Haiti for TPS after Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake, and has extended Haitian TPS multiple times.  In explaining its decision to end Haitian TPS, DHS stated that conditions in Haiti have improved enough for Haitians with TPS to be repatriated.  However, the State Department’s most recent human rights report on Haiti found there were still over 55,000 internally displaced Haitians living in tent camps, public K-12 education is neither free nor universally available, official corruption is common,  human rights abuses abound, and conditions are still unsettled.
  • Why does this matter to Maine’s business community?
Maine has many Haitians with TPS working throughout the state in agriculture, hospitality, factories, and healthcare settings, among others.  They are important members of our communities and our economy, and they help shore up Maine’s shrinking workforce.
Announcements are also expected soon on whether TPS will be extended or ended for Hondurans, who have had it since 1999, and Salvadorans, who have had TPS since 2001.   Termination of TPS for these two countries would result in over 250,000 more immigrants being pushed out of our country and our workforce.    One report estimates that the U.S. economy will see a $164 billion drop in the GDP over a decade after Haitians, Hondurans, and Salvadorans exit the workforce due to the ending of their TPS.   The human toll is high as well.  TPS holders from these three countries are parents to over 270,000 U.S. citizen children.
Several bills have been introduced in Congress that would provide a path to permanent residency for long-term TPS holders, but none are yet gaining real traction.

Maine State Chamber, Maine AFL-CIO, urge solution for DACA/Dreamers

In a November 19, 2017 Bangor Daily News opinion piece, Maine State Chamber of Commerce CEO Dana Connors joined Cynthia Phinney, President of the Maine AFL-CIO, to urge Congress to pass legislation creating a path to permanent status for those holding Deferred Action for Childhood Removals (DACA) status, also known as Dreamers.  These are immigrants who entered the U.S. when they were children, who have lived here for at least ten years, and for many of whom the U.S. is the only home that they can remember.

Approximately 800,000 immigrants benefited from the DACA program before it was rescinded by the current Administration on September 5, 2017.   Without Congressional action, beginning on March 6, 2018, each week more than 8500 immigrants with DACA will lose their permission to live and work legally in the U.S.   The Dream Act of 2017 (S. 1615, H.R. 3440) would allow those who have DACA to apply for permanent residency, an option that doesn’t exist for the vast majority of them under current law.

Dana Connors is on MeBIC’s Board of Directors, and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce is a MeBIC Partner.

USCIS Updates H-2B Cap Count for first half of FY2018

USCIS announced on November 14, 2017, that it had received petitions for 18,666 H-2B beneficiaries towards the cap of 33,000 for the first half of FY2018 (10/1/2017-3/30/2018).

H-2B visas are for seasonal non-agricultural workers and are used particularly in Maine’s seasonal hospitality sector. A one-time 15,000 bump in the number of available H-2B visas created by Congress to respond to the shortage of H-2B visas during the second half of FY 2017 expired on September 30, 2017.

Employers who need H-2B visa workers during Maine’s ski season can check here to see if the cap has been reached.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports speedy passage of the Dream Act of 2017

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce,  on November 15, 2017,  renewed its call on Congress to act before the end of 2017 to pass  legislation creating a path to permanent residency, such as the Dream Act of 2017 (S. 1615, H.R. 3440), for the nearly 800,000 immigrants with DACA status.  Congressional inaction will result in over 8500 DACA holders each week losing their legal status and legal ability to work, starting on March 6, 2018.   By November 2018, about 300,000 DACA holders will have been forced out of the workforce, joined by over 400,000 more through 2019.  The costs to the U.S. economy in turnover expenses, lost tax revenues, and negative impact on the GDP are estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars; not to mention the costs to our communities in which DACA holders are our neighbors, relatives, students, volunteers, workers and entrepreneurs.

Yesterday’s statement coincided with a day of action on Capitol Hill attended by over 100 DACA holders and additional business leaders.   The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been a consistent supporter of a path to residency for these immigrants.

 

Travel Ban 3.0 (update)

Following legal challenges partially blocking President Trump’s first two travel bans, on September 24, 2017, President Trump announced a new version, commonly being referred to as “Travel Ban 3.0.”   It was largely blocked one day before taking effect on October 18, 2017, by two separate decisions by the Federal District Courts of Hawai’i and Maryland.   These decisions were temporary, pending December hearings on the legal challenges.

On November 13, 2017, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed parts of Travel Ban 3.0 to go into effect while the legal challenges run their course.

Current state of play (Note: this is not intended to be a substitute for individualized legal advice).

The following people from the targeted countries will not be issued immigrant (permanent residency) or nonimmigrant (temporary stay) visas or be allowed to enter the U.S.,  unless they can prove a “credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity” in the U.S., as explained further below:

  • Chad, Libya and Yemen: All immigrants and, nonimmigrant visitors for pleasure or business.
  • Iran: All immigrants and nonimmigrants, with the exception of student and exchange (F, M and J) nonimmigrant visa holders (who nonetheless will undergo extra scrutiny).
  • North Korea and Syria: All immigrants and nonimmigrants.
  • Somalia: All immigrants. All nonimmigrants will be subject to extra scrutiny.
  • Venezuela: Certain government officials and their family members, traveling on visitor or other non-diplomatic nonimmigrant visas.

The ban applies to people from the named countries who were outside the U.S. and did not have valid, previously issued U.S. visas on the ban’s effective date.  It does not apply to:

  • Dual nationals using the passport of their non-targeted country.
  • U.S. Permanent residents (green card holders), or those who already have refugee, asylee, or withholding of removal status in the U.S., who are from the targeted countries and are returning from travel abroad.
  • Diplomats or those with similar visas.

Waivers of the ban may be issued if determined to be in the national interest, among other criteria.  As a practical matter, waivers will be virtually impossible to get.

A “bona fide relationship with a person or entity” in the U.S. in the family context should include: parents, spouses, children of any age, siblings and half-siblings, and these step-relationships, as well as fiancée(e)s, sons and daughters-in-law, grandparents, grandchildren, brothers and sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces nephews, nieces and cousins.

A “bona fide relationship” with an entity should include students accepted to study at U.S. educational institutions, persons offered employment at U.S. employers, and those invited to attend conferences or to speak at lectures, etc. However, the definition currently excludes those accepted for resettlement by a U.S. refugee resettlement agency who have not yet received their refugee visas to travel to the U.S.

How does this effect Maine businesses?

  • It is unclear how generously the government will interpret the exception for those with a bona fide relationship to an “entity.”   Universities and businesses hoping to bring a national of one of the targeted countries to the U.S. to lecture, study, present at a conference, or to work, should expect the visa issuance process to take longer than usual, and should work with an experienced immigration attorney.
  • Any employees from the specified countries, whether naturalized U.S. Citizens, permanent residents, refugees, asylees, or nonimmigrants with unexpired visas,  can expect a heightened level of questioning at U.S. ports of entry following any travel abroad, despite the fact that Travel Ban 3.0 is not supposed to apply to them.  They should be advised to consult with a competent immigration attorney before traveling abroad.
  • If you have immigrant employees from any of the named countries, be aware of their fear and worry that their relatives, whom they might have been expecting to immigrate soon, may not be able to come, despite the exception to the travel ban for those with family members already in the U.S. under the current injunction.
  • If you have an employee who needs to renew her/his work visa abroad, the process may be more complicated and take much longer than usual because of the need for an in-person interview at the relevant U.S. consulate.

New severe limits on Refugee resettlement will impact Maine’s workforce (Updated)

11/13/2017 Update:  Today, a federal class action lawsuit was filed challenging “EO-4″‘s  suspension of the processing of refugees from the 11 countries mentioned below, and of the spouses and children of refugees already resettled in the U.S.  MeBIC will update this page as the case progresses.

__________________________

On September 24, 2017, the Administration published its determination of the number of refugees that will be allowed into the U.S. during FY 2018.   Then, on October 24, 2017, President Trump issued an Executive Order (referred to as EO-4) announcing changes to the implementation of the federal Refugee Resettlement Program.

  • What are the changes to the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program?

Lower total numbers admitted: For FY 2018 (October 1, 2017, to September 30, 2018), the Administration  will cap refugee admissions at 45,000, the lowest number since Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980. In comparison, last year’s cap was 110,000. The average cap since 1980 has been about 95,000. With a record high of over 65 million displaced people in the world currently, including 22.5 million refugees, this low ceiling greatly diminishes the U.S.’s commitment to provide protection at a time of unprecedented humanitarian crises worldwide.

Refugee admissions from eleven predominantly Muslim countries temporarily suspended:  During a 90 day “review period”, refugees from 11 countries will not be resettled in the U.S. unless they can show, on a case-by-case basis, that their resettlement would be in the national interest, among other criteria. The targeted countries are understood to be Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. As a practical matter, virtually no one will meet the “national interest” test.

Admission of immediate family members of refugees indefinitely suspended:  Processing of refugee applications to reunify spouses and children of refugees already resettled in the U.S. (“principal refugees”) is suspended indefinitely, causing significant uncertainty and delays, while the government undertakes a review of  its procedures.

Heightened scrutiny:  Finally, applicants for refugee resettlement will face heightened scrutiny, despite historically having been the most thoroughly vetted category of noncitizens coming to the U.S.   New requirements include providing addresses going back 10 years, rather than the usual five, and providing email addresses and phone numbers of all members of their family tree, no matter where in the world these relatives are.   People forced to flee wars or persecution often move frequently and live informally (without a fixed address) and in many cases may lose contact with members of their family. These new requirements, as a practical matter, may result in refugees who need and deserve resettlement being denied.

  • How will this affect Maine’s businesses?

Maine is home to many immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Somali, South Sudan, Sudan and Syria.   The FY2018 restrictions on refugee admissions will mean that Maine residents from these countries who were anticipating reuniting imminently with their  family members still abroad, including their spouses and children, now face further separations and uncertainty about whether this will be the last delay. The other changes will prolong the family reunifications of refugees coming from other countries not on the list of eleven, as well.

Affected immigrants working in Maine will face great emotional and financial strain due to the postponed reunification with their loved ones. In addition, due to all of these changes, Maine will resettle hundreds fewer refugees than it has in recent years, at a time when we need to grow our population for the health of our communities and our labor supply.

MeBIC in the media on DACA and the Dream Act of 2017 (updated)

On September 5, 2017, the day that the Trump Administration announced its rescission of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program,  the George Hale and Rick Tyler show on Bangor-based WVOM radio interviewed MeBIC’s Beth Stickney about DACA and the reasons why DACA holders need a path to permanent residency in the U.S.

Beth Stickney appeared in a September 14, 2017 article in The Ellsworth American about the negative impact that the end of the DACA program will have on Maine’s labor force, including in Washington County.

On September 27, 2017, MeBIC’s Board Secretary Dana Connors, the CEO of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, spoke to Maine Public radio about why 30 business, education and economic development leaders sent a letter to Maine’s Congressional delegation urging them to pass the Dream Act of 2017 for those with DACA.

Update:  On November 10, 2017, the Brunswick Times Record published an opinion piece urging passage of the Dream Act of 2017 co-authored by MeBIC’s director Beth Stickney and David Vail, Bowdoin College Professor Emeritus of Economics and chair of Coastal Enterprise, Inc.’s Public Policy Committee.   CEI is a MeBIC partner.