Proposed Rule Would Change H-1B Petition Process

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has released an advance copy of a proposed rule that will substantially change the H-1B petitioning process. The rule will be officially published in the Federal Register on December 3, 2018, with public comments accepted until January 2, 2019.

H-1B visas are temporary professional work visas for those working in positions that require at least a bachelors degree or higher, or specialized knowledge.  Many of these positions are subject to a 65,000 visa cap for those with bachelors degrees or higher, with an  additional 20,000 visas available to those with at least a masters degree.

The number of employers seeking H-1B visas for foreign-born employees chronically exceeds the number of cap-subject visas available.  As a result, for years U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has not allowed employers to file their H-1B petitions until April 1st for positions beginning on October 1st, the next fiscal year.  The visa cap has been reached within five days and selection of petitions to process has been done by lottery..

The proposed rule would require all employers who intend to file a petition for an H-1B employee to register in advance of the first allowed filing date.  The proposed rule states that USCIS will then notify the employer that it will be allowed to submit the petition, or that the cap has been reached.  In theory, this change would save employers the time and expense of preparing and submitting an H-1B petition, only to be shut out when the cap is quickly exceeded.

The proposed rule also would change the order in which accepted H-1B petitions are processed, purportedly to increase the number of visas going to those with masters degrees or higher, rather than to those with bachelors degrees.  However, the rule appears to ignore how the Immigration and Nationality Act dictates that how visas will be allocated among those with masters and bachelors degrees, and as applied, could result in fewer individuals with masters degrees getting H-1B visas than Congress intended.  This analysis by the Cato Institute describes some of the problems with the proposed rule in more detail.

Employers who use H-1B visas should speak with their immigration counsel to discuss the impact this rule change would have on their H-1B filing process, and should consider filing a public comment once the proposed rule is published.

U.S.’s Undocumented Population Is Lowest in over a Decade

A new report from the Pew Research Center gives an updated portrait of the undocumented population in the U.S., which stood at 10.7 million people in 2016, down 13% from a high of 12.2 million in 2007, and the lowest number since 2004.    In 2016, unauthorized immigrants represented 24% of the foreign born in the U.S., compared to 30% in 2007.

The population of individuals lacking legal authorization to be in the U.S. would actually be about 9.7 million, since Pew included in its count the approximately 700,000 individuals with work permission and temporary status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, as well as the over 300,000 persons with work permission who have Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

The report finds that the drop is largely attributable to a decrease  in undocumented immigrants from Mexico, while the number increased of those from Central America,  particularly El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, countries where gangs, violence, and political unrest have caused people to flee.

Two-thirds of 10.7 million population that Pew studied had lived in the U.S. for more than a decade, typically for nearly fifteen years, with 43% of them having U.S. citizen children.  Only 18% had lived in the U.S. for five or fewer years.

Two-thirds of the undocumented population also were of the prime working  ages of 18 to 44, compared to about one-third of native U.S. citizens.  As of 2016, undocumented men aged 18-65 had high labor force participation: 91% compared to 79% for native born men.  Undocumented women were less likely to be in the labor force, 61% compared to 73% for native born women, largely due to being more likely to have young children at home.

While the undocumented population represented about 5% of the labor force in 2016, they were over-represented in certain industries, including agriculture, construction, leisure/hospitality, among others, all of which are critical components of Maine’s economy.

For more details, you can find the report here.






New Political Landscapes Nationally and in Maine: Better Prospects for Immigrants?

In Congress, time will tell if the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives will improve the prospect of achieving positive immigration reforms, since any bills will need the assent of the Senate, with its increased Republican majority.  But in recent years the Senate has been more willing to advance immigration bills than the House, so perhaps 2019 will usher in new hope for a path to permanent residency for those with DACA, those on the brink of losing TPS, and the long term undocumented population who are integral parts of our communities and our economy.

Meanwhile, in Maine, a new governor coupled with Democratic majorities in both chambers should improve the prospects for enactment of bills to help us attract, retain, and integrate the immigrants the State needs for vibrant communities and a growing economy.

MeBIC expects to be working on bills to increase funding for adult education, so that waiting lists for English as a second language classes can be eliminated, and additional higher level, classes can be added in communities that lacked the funds to do so.  Funding to locate classes at workplaces that combine job training and contextualized English instruction will also be a goal. Additionally, efforts to create alternatives to traditional credentialing and licensing pathways will be explored.  Many highly educated and experienced immigrants may not have access to their education credentials (for example, if their university was destroyed in war, required official transcripts may be impossible to obtain), or experienced tradespeople may lack the high school education needed to apply for licensing to work in their profession or trade.  With Maine’s shrinking labor force, Maine cannot afford the waste of talent that results when experienced immigrants cannot work in their chosen profession and area of expertise.

Contact MeBIC if you have ideas about legislation that you’d be particularly interested in that would help immigrants to participate to their fullest potential in Maine’s workforce.  Expect to hear from us as we also reach out to you about your ideas and where you would like to engage.

Study: Two Rural Towns’ Growth via Immigrants

A new report looks at the changes in two small Nebraska towns and how immigration has affected them.   Lexington and Madison, Nebraska had a combined total population of under 13,000 in 1990, and only 124 of their residents were immigrants.

By 2016, immigrants made up nearly half of Lexington’s population, and a third of Madison’s, and were responsible for 100% of each town’s growth since 1990.

Despite initial challenges as these towns grappled with their changing demographics, they have emerged with more lively business districts, a stronger housing market, thriving schools, and stable populations.

The report outlines the steps that the towns took to achieve a successful transition to be more diverse communities.   As the report states,

Lexington and Madison offer encouraging examples of how proactivity and practicality—coupled with time—can help communities embrace the nation’s multicultural destiny and emerge stronger for their collective efforts.

Most Maine communities are shrinking as our population ages and deaths outpace births.   Immigrants are a critical part of any path to growth in Maine.  This report offers a road map that could help guide Maine’s journey.

Data Analysis: Government Rejecting Legal Immigrants

A data analysis by the Cato Institute shows a 37% jump in denials of immigration applications  by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) since FY2016.

The increase in denials crosses all application types, including skills and employment-based nonimmigrant (temporary) visa  and permanent residency applications, immediate family permanent residency petitions, work permit applications, etc.

In a related opinion piece, Cato‘s David Bier ponders why the administration purports to support legal immigration while its actions overall are thwarting it.   Bier highlights additional measures  since  2016 that constrain legal immigration at the same time that our labor supply is shrinking, which is a recipe for hampering economic growth.

You can find further explanation of changes where the administration’s immigration actions disconnect with our economic reality here and here.


Will Reconfigured Congress Bode Well for Immigration Overhaul?

Although vote counts in some midterm races are still underway, Democrats have definitively taken control of the House of Representatives in the upcoming Congress.  This could be a sea-change for prospects for positive immigration reform.

Since 2010, the House has obstructed immigration bills ranging from so-called “comprehensive immigration reform” efforts in 2013, to efforts to create a permanent path forward for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) holders in 2018.

Will we see a new dawn for immigration law improvements?  This post from the Cato Institute reflects some optimism on that front.  It calls the incoming class the most pro-immigration House of Representatives in over a century, at a time when, loud anti-immigrant rhetoric notwithstanding, polling consistently shows that the majority of the U.S. public thinks that immigration is good for the country and should either remain at current levels or be increased, that DACA youth and other undocumented individuals should be able to stay and gain a path to permanent status, and that the government should not be separated families who arrive at the border seeking safety.

For the sake of the nation’s values and the economy, let’s hope that the combination of new members of Congress and favorable public support leads to positive immigration reforms.

WSJ: Job Openings Exceed Available Workers by Over One Million

The Wall Street Journal reports on Department of Labor data showing over 7.1 million job openings in September, while unemployment fell to a 49 year low of 3.7%, with only 5.96 million active jobseekers.

Perhaps the newly configured Congress, in the next term, will be able to move sensible immigration reforms forward so that the U.S. can welcome more immigrants, not fewer, as other countries competing for global talent are doing.

However, President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric in advance of the mid-term elections is unfortunately likely to linger and taint the debate well into the next legislative session.



Demographic Challenges: Canada and Japan Look to Immigration

Maine’s low birthrates, coupled with our aging population, put us on track to have nearly a quarter of the state’s population over age 65 by 2026.   But the entire nation is aging, and with our low birth rates, we are not producing enough replacement workers to keep our communities and our economy vibrant.

Two other countries face similar demographic challenges.   But rather than try to reduce levels of immigration, as the U.S. government is currently doing, Canada and Japan are both taking steps to increase immigration to their countries.

Canada, which previously set a goal of accepting 340,000 immigrants and refugees in 2020, has announced its intention to increase that number to 350,000 in 2021.

Japan has historically had extremely restrictive immigration policies.  However, its low birthrates and growing elderly population have resulted in the Japanese Cabinet considering immigration reforms that for the first time might allow some foreign-born workers to have a path to permanent status.

As the immigration rhetoric from the Trump administration heats up, it is worth considering whether its choice to bet on xenophobia as a winning strategy in the midterms will harm the U.S. and its economy in the long run.





Fitch Ratings Warns of Effects of Maine’s Aging Population

A recent report by Fitch Ratings highlights the economic impact of the Census Bureau’s prediction that by 2026, Maine will be a “super aged” state with 24% of the state’s population older than age 65.     This will constrain economic growth in Maine, since the over-65 population is less engaged in the workforce, and as a result tends to pay less income tax and  to spend less and generate lower sales tax revenues.  At the same time, the report notes that their health care and retirement costs increase.

The Portland Press Herald reports that Maine’s “super aged” status could translate into a lower bond rating, resulting in higher borrowing costs for the state.

As Fitch Ratings notes

Immigration could play a pivotal role in slowing the pace of U.S. aging. Immigrants tend to be younger than the native-born population and so provide an immediate boost to the working age population.

Unfortunately, the administration’s decisions (partially blocked currently by court orders) to strip over a million individuals with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Temporary Protected Status (TPS) of their ability to stay and work legally in the U.S., or the proposed rule change that would dramatically cut immediate family immigration, would result in fewer immigrants in Maine, at a time when there is ample evidence that we need more immigrants to strengthen Maine’s population and our economy.