Op-Ed in Portland Press Herald about the importance of Immigrants in Maine

The Portland Press Herald published a Maine Voices column today authored by David Vail, a retired Bowdoin College professor of Economics, with MeBIC’s Beth Stickney.  You can read the article here.  The op-ed notes that LD 1492, pending in the State Legislature, would provide funding for increased availability of English as a Second Language classes and other programs that will help immigrants more quickly contribute to Maine’s workforce and reach their full potential.

Maine State Legislature 2017: Bills of interest

MeBIC has been following two recent bills closely.

LD 1492, An Act to Attract, Educate and Retain New Mainers to Strengthen the Workforce. Sponsor: Sen. Roger Katz

MeBIC’s position:   Support

This bill addresses Maine’s shrinking labor supply by recognizing immigrants as a critical part of the solution. It would provide funding to expand the availability of adult English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, to offer combined ESL and job training at worksites in public/private partnerships, to expand the New Mainers Resource Center model operating in Portland into the Lewiston-Auburn area, to provide funds for planning grants for communities experiencing growing influxes of immigrants to assess services needed to help reduce brain waste and accelerate immigrant integration, and to create a Cabinet-level Office of New Mainers with a broad advisory board to improve planning and coordination of initiatives to attract, retain and integrate immigrants in Maine.

Public hearing was held on May 10, 2017, where the bill received broad support (and no opposition) from Maine’s business community, including several MeBIC members, including the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Coastal Enterprises, Inc., the Maine Healthcare Association, Barber Foods, Pro Search, Inc., Smith’s Farms, as well as from adult education providers, the Lewiston City Council, individual employers, and Maine residents. The Maine Innkeepers Association and the Maine Restaurant Association also submitted testimony supported key portions of the bill.

The bill now heads to work session.


LD 1307, An Act To Ensure Fair Employment Opportunity for Maine Citizens and Legal Residents

MeBIC’s position:   Oppose

This bill, as originally proposed, would have mandated that all Maine employers use the Federal E-Verify computer system in addition to the required use of the USCIS form I-9 to verify that new hires are authorized to work in the U.S. However, it would have required that employers use E-Verify in a discriminatory way that is illegal under Federal law.

At the work session on May 4, 2017, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Phyllis Ginzler, introduced substitute language that would require all public employers in Maine, and any businesses, and their subcontractors, who contract to do work in Maine for them, to use E-Verify for all new hires. Following amendment review, this bill will head to the House floor for a vote.

MeBIC opposes this bill because:

  1. This is a solution in search of a problem. There is no allegation or evidence that Maine employers are not complying with the federal requirement requiring new hires to prove their eligibility to work in the U.S. using the USCIS I-9 form.
  2. E-Verify is costly for businesses. Enrollment in E-Verify is free, but it is costly to use. In addition to going through the usual I-9 process, employers must accurately input every new hire’s name, email address, date of birth, Social Security number, and presented document type and number into the E-Verify web-interface.   In many cases employers must also compare the photo on the new hire’s ID document to the photo, which may be as much as 10 years out of date, that USCIS has in its database.   Maine employers who have signed up for E-Verify have found it significantly increases the man-hours involved in the HR process, and that is if all goes well.   If the system reports a “tentative nonconfirmation” (TNC) of work authorization, the employer must first ensure it has not made a data entry error.  If data entry was not the issue, the employer must notify the employee of the TNC.  The employee must then go to the nearest Social Security or Department of Homeland Security office (for employees throughout Maine, the only DHS office is in Portland) to try to clear up the error.   Sometime repeated trips are needed before the error is resolved, resulting in lost hours of work and productivity.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that nearly half of all workers with TNC’s lost a partial or full day of work, and 14% lost more than two days of work correcting the TNC.  The CBO estimated in 2013 that mandated use of E-Verify nationwide would cost over $600 million in three years, just for private sector employers.   Bloomberg found that small business owners who used E-Verify in 2010 spent $81 million on it.
  3. E-Verify has too many flaws for its use to be mandated by Maine law.   When E-Verify was originally created, Congress wanted to mandate it for all U.S. employers.   After the Social Security Administration, upon whose data E-Verify relies, testified in Congress about errors in its database, E-Verify was launched instead as a pilot project.   Problems surfaced as E-Verify rolled out, including U.S. citizens and other legal workers being ruled unauthorized to work. Over time, E-Verify errors have decreased, but have not been eliminated.   As a result, as recently as Congress’s 2015-2016 session, bills to make E-Verify mandatory nationally failed.

Congress has wisely kept enrollment in E-Verify voluntary except for certain federal contractors.   Maine should not burden public employers and the businesses that do contract work for them by mandating  use of the costly and flawed E-Verify system.

Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017: Immigration provisions

With only five months remaining in the fiscal year, Congress finally enacted the FY 2017 spending bill,  signed into law on May 5, 2017.   Not included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 were funds for  building new sections of “the Wall” on our border with Mexico.

However, the bill did include many immigration provisions, including an additional $430 million for increased immigration detention capacity and removal expenses, despite  monthly border apprehension rates being at their lowest level in over six years.

Of relevance in Maine, the appropriations bill also included language allowing the government to increase the cap on the number of available H-2B seasonal non-agricultural visas that are used by many of Maine’s seasonal businesses in the hospitality/tourism sector, potentially from the existing 66,000 per year to over 154,000.  Unfortunately this fix is coming too late to supply the workers needed for the start of Maine’s 2017 summer tourist season.   More details on the H-2B provisions are here.


Appropriations bill may solve H-2B visa shortage, but too late for early summer 2017

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017, signed into law on May 5, 2017,  contains provisions attempting to fix the problem of employers being left without sufficient workers due to the cap on the number of available H-2B seasonal non-agricultural visas.    As noted in an earlier post, the 33,000 cap for summer season H-2B visas was reached in early March, leaving Maine’s seasonal employers whose applications were not already filed by then high and dry.

Sen. Angus King had previously introduced a bill, which Sen. Susan Collins cosponsored, that would have exempted “returning workers” – those who had come to the U.S. on an H-2B previously and would be returning to work for the same employer – from the H-2B visa cap.  That approach was not adopted in the spending bill.    The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) summarized the relief enacted:

“While this bill does not include the returning worker exemption, it includes a provision that could allow DHS to increase the H-2B cap and thereby provide limited relief to businesses using the H-2B program. 
The bill allows DHS, in consultation with DOL, to increase the H-2B cap by not more than the highest number of H–2B nonimmigrants who participated in the returning worker program in any year in which returning workers were exempt from such numerical limitation. To trigger this increase, however, the two agencies must determine there are not sufficient U.S. workers 
able to fill the available positions. Although the total H-2B visa issuance number for FY2016 is unavailable for comparison, the highest number of H-2B workers admitted to the US when the H-2B returning worker exemption was in place (FY2005-7) likely refers to the number admitted in FY2007, 154,895….. (The bill also) changes the definition of ‘temporary need’ from a fixed 9 month period to a period of ‘one year or less,’ which DOL has generally capped at 10 months.”

Unfortunately, the bill includes new requirements that may put any additional H-2B visas out of reach, including compelling many employers to begin their summer hiring recruitment process all over again, and making all employers attest that they will suffer irreparable, permanent harm without the planned H-2B staff.

In addition, the process the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Labor (DOL) must follow is unlikely to result in Maine’s seasonal employers getting visas for the workers they need in time for the start of Maine’s summer 2017 tourist season.