DHS Aims to End Regulation Encouraging Immigrant Entrepreneurs in U.S.

As it stated it would do, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has published a proposed regulation eliminating the International Entrepreneur Rule (IER) created during the Obama Administration to help noncitizens seeking to launch businesses in the U.S.

You can read more background on this issue here.

A recent Harvard Business School paper confirms that immigrants start businesses at higher rates than do U.S. natives.  MeBIC partner New American Economy outlines the positive effects on the U.S. economy of immigrant entrepreneurs.  Eliminating the IER flies in the face of the Administration’s stated goal of growing the U.S. economy.

Public comment on the proposed rule will be accepted through June 28, 2018.   Maine businesses that would like to comment opposing elimination of the IER are encouraged to contact MeBIC.

DACA: State of Play Update

Nationwide unemployment is at a 30 year low. Employers are clamoring for more workers at every level, from manual labor to PhD researchers. Over 700,000 immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have lived here for at least eleven and as many as 36 years have only the federal courts standing between them and loss of their legal status and work eligibility following the Administration’s rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.  Business associations, religious leaders, the general public, including a majority of Republicans and Trump supporters, believe that Congress must create a path to legal status for these DACA/Dreamers.

Congress has not been able to get this done, in part due to the shifting positions of the president. After insisting that any DACA deal would have to include border security, in March President Trump turned down a bipartisan Senate offer that did just that, and instead moved the goalpost to reject any bill that would not substantially gut the U.S. system for immediate-family immigration.

Where things stand now.

Recently, several moderate Republicans initiated a discharge petition, going around House leadership to advance a “Queen of the Hill” maneuver to bring four separate DACA-related bills to the House floor for a vote. The discharge petition had gathered 213 of the 218 needed supporters, including 23 Republicans, before the effort was put on hold leading into the Memorial Day recess. The pause will allow negotiations on a DACA solution to continue in the House, but if no deal is reached, the leaders of the discharge petition effort have pledged to resume gathering signatories in early June.

In the meantime, President Trump has reiterated he won’t sign a bill that doesn’t include funding for the border wall, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated he might not schedule a vote on a DACA relief bill unless there’s an indication that the President would sign it. This Washington Post article summarizes the state of play as of the start of Congress’s Memorial Day recess.

Once/if the discharge petition begins to move again, it will need five more Republicans to get it across the finish line. Most Democrats have signed it, including Rep. Chellie Pingree.  While Rep. Bruce Poliquin has expressed support for DACA youth, he has yet to sign on.

Maine has several hundred DACA holders.  They are our neighbors, classmates, coworkers, friends, family members.  They are college students, entrepreneurs, and working in jobs ranging from high tech to hospitality to shipbuilding to agriculture.

With Maine’s 2.7% unemployment rate, its lowest in 40 years, and with our aging population, keeping our DACA  community members here is not only the right thing to do, it’s also essential for Maine’s workforce and economy.   Rep. Poliquin should sign the discharge petition once Congress gets back to work in June, should it be needed to force a vote on a path to legal status for DACA holders.

Once again, USCIS Falls Far Short on H-2B Seasonal Visas

As MeBIC has discussed previously, the 33,000 nationwide limit on H-2B seasonal, non-agricultural visas available for temporary jobs starting between April 1 and September 30th of each year is chronically insufficient to meet the nation’s, and Maine’s, demand for seasonal labor.

In March 2018, Congress authorized USCIS to issue up to 63,547 additional H-2B visas for the remainder of FY 2018, similar to Congress’s stopgap solution for FY 2017.

Disappointingly,  after an inexcusable two month delay, USCIS just announced that rather than issue up to the maximum number of additional H-2B visas allowed by Congress’s fix, it will instead authorize only up to 15,000 more, as happened in FY 2017.  As a reminder, the government received applications for over 81,000 positions on the very first day that applications for H-2B summer season visas could be filed, eventually resulting in a lottery to select which petitions USCIS would process.  All other applications were rejected and returned to their employers.  Clearly, USCIS was aware that 15,000 additional visas would be inadequate to meet the demand.

In Maine and across the U.S., employers are turning to other solutions, such as recruiting Puerto Ricans who, as U.S. citizens, do not need visas and who are looking to the mainland for work while the island continues to struggle to recover from Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

If the H-2B program is to have future relevance, Congress must create permanent reforms significantly expanding the number of visas available and streamlining the process, so that the H-2B visa program can be predictable and reliable for employers with seasonal labor needs.  As the Wall Street Journal said in a recent editorial, “Mr. Trump says he wants the economy to grow by 4% or more, but it won’t happen if employers can’t find enough workers.”

Decline in International Student Enrollments: An Ominous Bellwether for the U.S. Economy?

After years of surging enrollments by international students in U.S. undergraduate and graduate degree programs, foreign student enrollment began a decline in 2016 that continued in 2017, according to multiple reports.

While various surveys revealed flat or slight drops at the undergraduate level for fall 2017 in international student “yield” – the percentage of accepted students who actually enroll – the decline in graduate school yield was more pronounced.  A survey by the Council of Graduate Schools found that 46% of graduate school deans reported “substantial” drops in international student enrollment for the fall of 2017.

International students in the U.S. comprise 20% of master’s and doctoral degree students, and in STEM fields, international graduate students far outnumber U.S. graduate students.

The National Foundation for American Policy, in an October 2017 report, found that from 1995 to 2015, while the number of U.S. graduate students in computer science increased by 45%, international graduate computer science students grew by 480%, to outnumber their U.S. peers by nearly four to one. The same report found that in U.S. graduate level programs in 2015,

(f)oreign nationals account(ed) for 81 percent of the full-time graduate students in electrical engineering and petroleum engineering, 79 percent in computer science, 75 percent in industrial engineering, 69 percent in statistics, 63 percent in mechanical engineering and economics, statistics, 59 percent in civil engineering and 57 percent in chemical engineering.

But that trend may be reversing.  The National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators 2018 report notes an “overall 6% decline in international graduate student enrollment from fall 2016 to fall 2017.”  The U.S. State Department issued 16% fewer student visas in FY 2017 than in FY 2016, with certain countries showing steeper declines.  Citizens of India and China were issued 24% and 22% fewer student visas, respectively, in FY 2017 compared to FY 2016.

Conversely, international student enrollment in other English-speaking countries such as Australia and Canada have seen enrollments surge.  Canada saw an 11% increase in international student enrollment from fall 2016 to fall 2017, following on the heels of a 17.5% increase from 2015 to 2016. International students cited Canada’s reputation as a “safe” and “tolerant and nondiscriminatory society” as two of their top three reasons for choosing that country, according to Canada’s Bureau for International Education.  Moreover, CBIE notes that 51% of international students in Canada plan to immigrate to Canada.  The Canadian government encourages this, and in 2016 amended its immigration laws to increase the favorable weight given to education attained at Canadian institutions when considering applications from intending immigrants.  Similarly, Australia saw a 15% increase in international university students from 2016 to 2017, and its immigration system facilitates remaining in Australia after graduation by international students who want to pursue permanent residency there.   In contrast, U.S. law requires student visa denial to any international student believed to have the long-term intention to immigrate to the U.S.

While it may be too soon to call the decline in international students to the U.S. a trend, there are worrying portents that it may continue during this Administration, both due to actual policy shifts and rhetoric, and to prospective international students’ perceptions of a new hostility in the U.S.’s attitude towards immigrants. In addition, changes making it more difficult, following degree completion, for international students and their spouses and children to transition to employment and to permanent residence in the U.S. may make other countries more attractive destinations.

The short-term costs of these shifts are significant. In the U.S., in response to reduced tuition revenues from fewer international students (who ordinarily pay the highest possible rate), some higher education institutions are having to reduce costs, including by cutting faculty and courses or majors.  A decline in graduate students can result in a university’s reduced capacity to conduct research, and correspondingly, to attract top faculty. Local communities also suffer, since international students live and spend money in their college or university towns.

The long-term costs are likely to be the most damaging, if U.S. employers cannot get the highly educated talent that they need.  For example, in 2015, 57% of Silicon Valley STEM workers with Bachelor’s degrees or higher were foreign born.  If the U.S. loses its ability to attract and keep the brightest minds from around the world, we may cease to be a global leader in innovation in myriad sectors and professions.

Fall 2018 international student higher education enrollment numbers will help us understand if the 2017 decline was a signal of worse to come, or a blip.  Let us hope for the strength of our nation, our communities, and our economy, that it was the latter.

U.S. Immigration Debate Defies Economic Realities

A recent Wall Street Journal column succinctly outlines the disconnect between our nation’s economic realities and the immigration debate in the U.S. and in Washington D.C., particularly in the House of Representatives. The article notes that despite a growing elderly population, declining fertility rates (now at 1.76, the lowest in 30 years), the lowest unemployment rate in 17 years, and business growth hampered by not enough workers, many in Congress want to shrink the number of legal immigrants to the U.S.

Due to Administration policies, that shrinkage is already happening. Dramatic drops in refugee admissions (only 13,000 so far this year, putting us on track to admit barely 20,000, the lowest number since Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980); increased “vetting” leading to visa delays and denials for innocuous mistakes, such as not remembering to include an obsolete handle from a long-abandoned social media account; planned ejection of 1.1 million long term, working residents who have DACA and TPS status; inadequate numbers of temporary professional and seasonal worker visas meeting only a fraction of employer demand; and sharp declines in student visa approvals, to name only a few actual or planned Administration actions, have placed a stranglehold on the pipeline of immigrants to the U.S.

In contrast, some countries with similar demographics recognize that increased immigration translates into economic growth.  To counteract declining birthrates and increasing retirements, Canada has changed its laws to boost the influx of immigrants and refugees, with immigrants projected to be 30% of its population by 2036.  In Australia, some small towns have turned to immigrants to reverse population declines and revive their communities.

It is ironic that in this country built by centuries of immigration, there is not near-unanimity in Congress that if the U.S. wants a growth economy despite our demographics, continued robust immigration is key.

International Travel to U.S Declines, with Economic Costs

According to travel industry experts and the U.S. Commerce Department, international traveler spending to the U.S. declined by 3.1% in 2017, following a decline in 2016 as well.   International traveler arrivals also saw a 2.1% decrease in 2016, the most recent full year for which numbers are available.

Globally, from 2015 to 2017, long-haul international travel, e.g. overseas trips, increased by 7.9%.  During the same period, of the top 13 international long haul destinations, only the U.S. and Turkey, experienced declines in arrivals.

Decreased international tourism has enormous economic consequences.  According to the U.S. Travel Association,

(i)nternational travel is our country’s No. 1 service export, and 15.3 million American workers depend on a healthy travel industry for their employment.

They go on to note that

(h)ad the U.S. maintained its 2015 market share, it would have received 7.4 million more visitors from abroad and $32.2 billion in additional traveler spending. That translates to 100,000 more American jobs. It is comparable to:

– Opening 25 auto plants —equal to the 4,000-job plant Toyota announced for Alabama in January 2018

– Opening two new Amazon headquarters, which will bring 50,000 jobs to a U.S. destination/city

While a stronger dollar is likely one factor in the decline, some travel industry experts speculate that Trump Administration policies, including the various “Travel Bans”, and pervasive anti-immigrant rhetoric, beginning with the 2016 Presidential campaign and continuing throughout this Administration, may be causing international visitors to travel elsewhere.

A recent Cato Institute analysis of government data indicates that compared to FY 2016, in the first half of FY 2018,  of 48 Muslim majority countries, 45 experienced declines in temporary visa issuance.  The Muslim countries subjected to the Travel Bans (the current version of which bars immigrants, but not most temporary visa travel) saw a 61% drop in temporary visa approvals.   Overall, in FY 2017, the U.S. State Department issued nearly 9% fewer visitor visas for business or pleasure than it did in FY 2016, although the data doesn’t reveal if this reflects fewer people applying for visas, or fewer visa approvals.

To try to reverse the decline, in January 2018 eleven associations including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Travel Association, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, and the National Restaurant Association formed the Visit U.S. Coalition. That Coalition will market and promote international tourism to the U.S., educate the public and policy makers about the important economic role of international tourism, and work for policies to streamline visa issuance and to send the message that the U.S. welcomes foreign travelers.

It remains to be seen how heavy of a lift  it will be to reach the Coalition’s goals.  However, if not successful, states such as Maine where tourism is an economic mainstay, may eventually feel the effects.

Refugee Admissions Continue at Record Low – Just as Unemployment Is at Record Lows

As MeBIC has written about previously, the U.S. Government is continuing to block the admission of refugees to the U.S.   Last fall, the Administration stated that 45,000 refugees would be admitted to the U.S. in this fiscal year, the lowest number since the Refugee Act of 1980 took effect.

But as reported in a recent article, government data shows that the actual number of refugees admitted year-to-date makes it likely that barely 20,000 will enter the U.S. before the fiscal year ends in September.  Muslim refugees from countries such as Iraq, Somalia, and Syria have been the hardest hit.  In FY 2016, nearly 39,000 refugees from predominantly Muslim countries gained refugee status in the U.S.   To date this fiscal year, just over 2100 Muslim refugees have entered.  The Administration’s “Travel Ban 4.0” and heightened vetting of a population that was already subjected to the highest level of scrutiny (typically taking nearly two years to complete) of all applicants seeking to come to the U.S., have erected a virtual wall blocking entry of refugees.

Maine has resettled only 53 refugees as of May 16, 2018, putting the state on track to receive fewer than 100 when the fiscal year ends in just over four months.  To compare, in FY 2016, Maine received about 650 refugees, most from countries such as Iraq, Somalia, and Syria.

The U.S. has an international law obligation to resettle refugees, as well a moral and humanitarian obligation to do so.  But refugee resettlement is not just the right thing to do for refugees; it is a win for the U.S. economy, bringing a reliable stream each year of newcomers who want to work and contribute to the country that offers them safe haven.  Refugees enter our workforce, start businesses, pay taxes, volunteer, and have children who will be our workforce of tomorrow.  Refugees have been a steady source of newcomers and contributing community members to Maine since 1980, until the numbers dropped by over half last fiscal year, only to become nearly insignificant during the current fiscal year.

With Maine’s unemployment rate below 3%, its lowest in forty years, and the U.S. unemployment rate at a nearly 17 year low at only 3.9%, the Administration’s effective evisceration of our nation’s refugee resettlement process makes little economic sense.

130 Representatives Ask USCIS to Keep H-4 Work Authorization

As MeBIC has written previously, the Administration plans to rescind an Obama-era regulation allowing certain H-4 visa spouses of H-1B professional visa holders to work legally in the U.S. while waiting for their residency, a process that can take years, and even decades.  Eliminating the rule will hurt the U.S.’s ability to attract global talent, as explained in previous posts, and by an H-4 spouse in an op-ed.

In a May 16, 2018  letter to Kirstjen Nielsen, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a bipartisan group of 130 Members of Congress urged her to maintain the current regulation.

Business associations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Society for Human Resource Management, the National Association of Manufacturers, and groups, such as FWD.us, representing high-tech industries have also written to the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) about the damaging effects that rescinding the H-4 spousal work rule would have on the U.S. economy .

With national and Maine unemployment at record lows at 3.9% and 2.7% respectively,  we need all the workers we can get, and H-4 spouses are already here in the U.S.   It makes no sense to revert to a policy that forces them out of our economy.  Let us hope that DHS and USCIS will rethink their intention to end H-4 spousal work authorization.

Should they move forward to eliminate the rule. there will be a required notice and comment period when the public can register opposition.  Maine businesses that would like more information or assistance in submitting comments should contact MeBIC.

DACA Case Appeal to Be Argued Today; Congress Still Needs to Act

Since the Trump Administration’s September 5, 2017 announcement of its rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the rescission has been challenged in four separate federal lawsuits.  The first of these that resulted in an order requiring the government to resume processing DACA renewal applications will be heard on appeal at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals today.   Regardless of the eventual outcome of this case, with a conflict in the Courts, only Congress can end the limbo in which DACA holders now find themselves.

Underscoring the human and economic costs if Congress and the President cannot find a solution to offer these young adults a path to permanent residency is this profile of six DACA holders who recently graduated from Loyola University of Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine.  Upon completion of their residencies, they will practice medicine in underserved communities in Illinois.

The impact of DACA rescission crosses into many critical professions.  For example, many DACA holders are teaching our children, with estimates of the number of DACA teachers nationwide ranging from 8,800 to 20,000.    The Teach for America program has at least 190 “DACAmented” teachers working in high-need urban and rural schools throughout the country.

With nationwide unemployment at 3.9%, the U.S. cannot afford to lose any DACA holders from the workforce, regardless of sector.  So it is heartening that a Republican-led effort is underway to bypass House leadership, which is failing to act, to force the House to vote on four different immigration bills that would offer a path to permanent status for DACA/Dreamers.  As of this writing, 18 Republicans and one Democrat had signed onto the discharge petition to  bring the rare “Queen of the Hill” resolution up for a vote.   It is expected that most House Democrats will sign the petition, so seven more Republicans are needed to reach the 218 representatives needed to force a vote.

Rep. Chellie Pingree has been a strong advocate for path to permanent status for DACA/Dreamers.    Rep. Bruce Poliquin has stated his support for this population as well.   Maine employers should contact Rep. Pingree and Rep. Poliquin to urge them to sign on to the discharge petition, H. Res. 774.