Separating Fact from Fiction-Immigration Issues in 2018

The Cato Institute has produced a recap of the many research papers, data compilations, and other reports or posts it produced in 2018 relevant to actual and proposed changes in the U.S. immigration landscape under the Trump administration.

These reports cut through myths and rhetoric by citing to facts and data. MeBIC has cited to many of them previously when posting on particular immigration topics.  While Cato sometimes draws conclusions with which MeBIC disagrees, they engage in honest debate and their work product is always worth a read.

The recap breaks down their reports by topic for ease of reference.  You can find it here.


Record Stretch of Low Unemployment in Maine

Maine’s unemployment rate has been under 4% for 36 straight months, as pointed out in this Portland Press Herald article.

However,  MeBIC Board member John Dorrer, a labor economist and former director of the Maine Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Research and Information, points out in the article that the tight labor market is likely to trim growth and tax collections and hurt the state’s economy.

Businesses are offering bonuses, raising wages, creating training programs, and trying to re-engage retired workers and attract newcomers to the state, but those efforts are not enough to make up for our labor shorfall.

Immigrants are part of the solution, too.  We need to make sure that the federal administration stops constricting immigration, through its policies that reduce refugee arrivals, or would slash immediate family immigration, and that raise obstacles to legal immigration by every type of worker, from manual laborers to professionals.


ICE Enforcement Actions against Employers Increase in 2018

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is charged with ensuring that employers comply with the Immigration and Nationality Act’s employer sanctions provisions.

According to a recent ICE announcement, in FY 2018  ICE enforcement actions directed at employers increased by over 400% compared to FY 2017, with 6,848 worksite investigations opened, and 5,981 I-9 audits initiated, the highest number in a decade.   While criminal prosecutions and convictions of employers held steady in FY 2018, ICE projects that these will increase in future years due to lengthy investigation and prosecution time frames.

Since 1986, it has been unlawful for U.S. employers to hire individuals who are not authorized to work in the U.S.   Among other requirements, employers must complete  the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 for all employees within their first three days of hire, to show that the employer has reviewed any new employee’s documentation of identity and employment eligibility.

ICE can conduct I-9 audits and other enforcement actions to ensure that employers are in compliance with the law.

As the Cato Institute points out, even with ICE’s recent enforcement increase, the number of impacted businesses is only a fraction of 1% of all U.S. employers.   Since ICE lacks the capacity to investigate all employers, Cato posits that ICE’s aim is to generated greater compliance through fear.

It remains to be seen if this trend will continue in 2019.

H-2B Cap for First Half of FY 2019 Reached

USCIS has announced that on December 6, 2018, the cap of 33,000 H-2B non-agricultural seasonal work visas for the first half of FY 2019 (October 1, 2018-March 31, 2019) was reached.  Petitions subject to the cap with employment start dates prior to April 1, 2019 will be returned to the petitioners.  Cap exempt petitions will still be accepted.  Petitions for positions starting on April 1, 2019 or later will be accepted electronically via the Department of Labor’s iCERT portal beginning at 12:00 a.m. on January 1, 2019.

H-2B visas are used particularly in Maine’s seasonal hospitality sector. A 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 2018 expired on September 30, 2018.   Congress should enact a permanent and substantial increase in the number of H-2B visas so that employers can look to the program as one that can be relied on to meet their seasonal labor needs

Maine employers who want details about which workers are cap-exempt,  or who want to check the number of H-2B visa petitions already accepted that count towards the 33,000 visa cap for the second half of FY 2019 (April 1 – Sept. 30, 2019) can check here.

Maine’s Business Community Weighs in to Oppose Proposed Rule Change

As described in this previous MeBIC post, the Department of Homeland Security published a proposed rule change on October 10, 2018 that would upend decades of settled policy and result in denials of residency to an estimated hundreds of thousands of immigrants annually.  Over 210,000 comments, the vast majority in opposition, were submitted before the public comments period ended on December 10, 2018.

MeBIC Board member David Barber, senior consultant at Barber Foods, wrote this Maine Sunday Telegram op-ed to raise awareness of the proposed rule and of the public comment opportunity to oppose it.

MeBIC Board members Mark St. Germain of St. German Collins and Cathy Lee of Lee International, were joined by Maine business owners Daniel Freund of Common Census, and Liz Greason of Maine Intercultural Communications Consultants on a  public comment opposing the rule submitted  on December 7, 2018 by 120 business executives nationwide, as reported in the Wall Street Journal.  Additional MeBIC partners submitted their own individual comments.

While the proposed rule change purports to apply to all who hope to enter or become permanent residents of the United States, its impact would fall squarely on those immigrating as immediate family members of U.S. citizens or permanent residents.   Family-based immigration, which makes up two-thirds of all immigration to the U.S.  and Maine annually, would likely be slashed by at least half.

In Maine, if family-based immigration were halved, the state would have had net population loss, instead of the gain of 3118 persons actually experienced from 2010 to 2016, as we’ve explained here.  The proposed rule change would not only harm families and defy our values and centuries of immigration tradition, but also damage  our economy by throttling a critical and reliable source of new Maine residents when the State’s population is rapidly aging and deaths outpace births.

While the administration may not change course in response to the outpouring of opposition to the proposed rule change, the comments will be helpful in any litigation to block application of the rule change if it is ultimately finalized.



Maine’s Shrinking Labor Supply Hitting Businesses Hard

A recent article in Mainebiz  describes how Maine’s workforce shortage is challenging a variety of Maine’s employers and industries.  Offering higher wages, signing bonuses and more robust benefits packages isn’t enough to fill all the job openings that exist.

The article makes clear that Maine simply needs more people, and it identifies immigrants as part of the solution.   This echos what economic and business leaders have been saying for years, including Coastal Enterprises, Inc., and the Maine Development Foundation with the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

A new State Legislative session will be underway in January 2019.  MeBIC will be working to support legislation to help Maine welcome immigrants and facilitate their ability to contribute to their fullest potential as workers, consumers, entrepreneurs and taxpayers.  In addition, MeBIC will advocate for federal policy changes so that immigrants with temporary or limbo status living in Maine, such as those with DACA, TPS or undocumented status, will have a path forward to apply for permanent residency, and can remain as productive members of our communities.

Report Highlights Barriers to Putting Maine’s Highly Educated Immigrants to Work

Maine’s immigrants are well educated and skilled.  Over 33% of Maine’s immigrants have either a bachelors or graduate degree, compared to just under 30% of native Mainers.   Prior to coming to the U.S., many worked in professions that are badly needed in Maine, such as medicine and engineering, but find themselves unable to continue their careers here due to credentialing and licensing barriers.  This results in tremendous “brain waste”.

The New Mainers Resource Center (NMRC), a part of Portland Adult Education and Portland Public Schools, has released Foreign Trained Professionals: Maine’s Hidden Talent Pool, a new report looking at the challenges highly skilled immigrants face in resuming their professions.  Opaque guidance on the steps required to apply for licensure, high fees for credential evalutions and language testing, and lack of acceptance by registration boards of degrees and experience obtained abroad are among the factors that result in many immigrants having to take jobs far beneath their skill level, or to repeat their education in the U.S., or to choose new careers.

The report analyzes the problem through the lens of several professions in demand in Maine, including doctors, nurses, lawyers, engineers, accountants, and teachers.  The report additionally makes recommendations for improvements to reduce the barriers that foreign trained and experienced professionals in these fields face.

The NMRC also has produced explanatory licensing guides to walk foreign trained professionals through the steps needed to attain licensure in each of the six professions examined in the report.

Maine cannot afford to have immigrants be unable to work to their fullest potential.  The NMRC’s work  may be the first step on the road to improvements.  You can find the report here and the licensing guides here.