Recent Reports Highlight Importance of Immigration to U.S. Economy and Need for Reforms

  • Market strategist and economist Abby Joseph Cohen of Goldman Sachs, discussed a December 2018 Goldman Sachs research paper on economic disparities among various U.S. states.

As summarized in a March 27, 2019 interview, Cohen said that

One of the reasons our economy has been stronger and grown faster than the economies in Europe and Japan — and I’m comparing us to the developed economies — is because we have faster population growth. And we have faster population growth in large part because of immigration….

(L)arge cities in the US, in which some 30 percent of the population is made up of immigrants, “are doing extremely well,’ with a rise in jobs and income since 2009. This same prosperity has not been seen in the smaller towns and rural areas, where the immigrant population is under 5%

Cohen noted that she views with concern the current administration’s policies, which have led to a reduction in the issuance of visas for international students and for professional specialized knowledge works, as antithetical to economic growth.

The report notes how the H-1B visa program is out of sync with the needs of companies, and of international students and professional level talent who want to be able to work and stay in the U.S.


Congress should take heed of these reports and advance an agenda to modernize our immigration laws to retain our values, and our economic strength, as a country that welcomes immigrants.


USCIS to Authorize 30,000 Additional H-2B Visas in FY2019

As we’ve reported previously, in the omnibus spending bill enacted in February 2019, Congress authorized the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to issue up to 69,320 additional H-2B seasonal non-agricultural worker visas to supplement the 33,000 H-2B visas available for positions beginning between April 1st and September 30th, 2019.

In FY 2017 and FY 2018, Congress authorized up to that same number of additional visas, but DHS only released an additional 15,000 visas instead.

For FY 2019, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen indicated on March 29, 2019 to several members of Congress that the administration  will issue 30,000 additional visas beyond the usual 33,000 summer season cap.  That falls 39,320 visas short of the number DHS could have issued under the Congressional fix, but is an improvement over the prior two fiscal years.

However, there is a catch.   According to the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association,  “the additional visas will be available only to applicants who have held H-2B status in at least one of the past three fiscal years (2016, 2017 and 2018).”  The additional visas will not be available until DHS issues a temporary final rule and has published it for public inspection.

The 33,000 usual H-2B visa cap for the second half of FY 2019  was reached on February 22, 2019.  Maine employers who depend on H-2B visas for their spring/summer seasonal worker needs should cross fingers that DHS will act quickly to make the additional visas available, and can check for updates on USCIS’s H-2B visa page.


Administration Extends Status for Certain Liberians

On March 28, 2019 President Trump announced that he would extend Deferred Enforced Departure (DED)  for Liberians through March 20, 2020.

DED is a discretionary remedy granted by presidents to offer protection to certain noncitizens in the U.S.

Most Liberians with DED have lived here for decades, having first been granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in March 1991, and seesawing between alternating periods of DED and TPS since then.   In 2018, the President announced that DED for Liberians would end on March 31, 2019.

This extension notice is welcome news for Liberians with TPS, even if it came at the eleventh hour.  However, it only grants them a temporary reprieve, rather than the certainty of a path to legal status after decades of putting down roots, raising children, and contributing to our nation’s communities and workforce.  This Washington Post article puts a face on Liberian DED.

Bills have been introduced this month in both the House and Senate that would create an avenue towards permanent residency for these Liberians.  The bills would also benefit the more than 300,000 individuals who have had TPS for years, and the over 700,000 immigrant youth granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) whose status was terminated by the administration.  Presently only court orders are protecting DACA and TPS holders from losing their ability to live and work legally in the U.S.

With our shrinking workforce and birthrates nationally, and with unemployment in Maine remaining below 4% for more than three years, Maine’s Congressional delegation should make working to pass these bills a priority.


2019 State Legislation: March Update

The 129th Legislature is in full swing, with several bills introduced that would make Maine a more, or less, welcoming state for immigrants.   Here is a rundown of some of the bills that MeBIC is following so far.

Bills MeBIC supports:

  • LD  647, An Act to Attract, Educate and Retain New State Residents to Strengthen the Workforce.

LD 647 is this session’s version of last session’s LD 1492, which passed both chambers but did not receive an appropriation.  LD 647 would provide funding to expand the availability statewide of adult English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, offer combined ESL and job training at worksites in public/private partnerships, expand the New Mainers Resource Center model operating in Portland into the Lewiston-Auburn area, and 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.

Lack of English fluency is one of the biggest barriers hindering immigrants from reaching their full potential in the workforce and in our communities. Maine’s immigrants want to improve their English, but often face daunting waiting lists to get into adult education ESL classes in Portland and Lewiston, or find that classes matching their level of English are simply not offered yet in communities whose immigrant populations have been growing recently, such Augusta, Bangor and Biddeford.  Moreover,  workplace-based contextualized ESL classes combined with job training, as proposed in the bill, not only make ESL classes more accessible, but also improve  workplace skills.  LD 647 would help lower barriers to immigrant integration, benefiting immigrants and Maine’s labor supply alike.

LD 647 does not yet have a hearing date scheduled.  You can read a brief summary here.

  • LD 532 and LD 769:  Addressing barriers to credentialing and licensure

Immigrants who gain their education and experience abroad often cannot practice their profession in Maine due to lack of recognition of their foreign credentials.   LD 532 addresses barriers to licensure faced by a broad range of individuals, including, but not limited to immigrants.  LD 769 is specifically about barriers faced by foreign-educated and trained individuals.

Both bills direct the Department of Professional and Financial Responsibility to study how to begin to eradicate unnecessary licensure requirements or to provide alternative pathways to licensure.

Maine’s immigrants are highly educated and skilled. Data derived from the U.S. Census shows that as of 2017, more immigrants in Maine have graduate degrees than do our native-born citizens (21.3% compared to 11.7%), and immigrants have bachelors degrees at virtually the same rate as native-born Mainers (19.4% compared to 20%).  Yet Maine’s immigrants have high rates of so-called “brain waste”, where they are underemployed, working at jobs that are far beneath their skill level.  Estimates are that in 2017, nearly a quarter (24.2%) of Maine’s foreign born population was underemployed.

Maine needs every working-age individual in the state to be able to work to her or his highest and best potential.  MeBIC testified in favor of both LD 532 and LD 769.

Bills MeBIC opposes:

  • LD 1077, An Act To Ensure Fair Employment Opportunity for Maine Citizens and Legal Residents by Requiring the Use of a Federal Immigration Verification System

This bill would require all Maine employers  to 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.

E-Verify was created in 1996 and every attempt in Congress to mandate its use by all employers nationwide has failed, though federal contractors must use it.  Nationwide, according to the Cato Institute, only about 13.5% of all employers have enrolled in E-Verify, and only four states mandate its use by all employers.   E-Verify is particularly burdensome for smaller employers without dedicated human resources staff, especially if they have substantial seasonal hires.

MeBIC testified against LD 1077 at a hearing on March 27, 2019.  A work session on the bill is scheduled for April 3, 2019.   You can read more about why MeBIC opposes mandated use of E-Verify here.

  • LD 1449, An Act To Facilitate Compliance with Federal Immigration Law by State and Local Government Entities

This bill is a solution in search of a problem.   There is no department of state government and no municipality in Maine that prevents cooperation with federal immigration authorities, but LD 1449 would prohibit such an action.  It would also authorize state and local employees to act as immigration agents, asking for immigration status of those they encounter.   As a practical matter, this bill will result in ethnic and racial profiling, and make Maine hostile territory for people of color, whether they are immigrants or native-born.

Other states that have tried to pass similar laws have faced strong corporate opposition since businesses want to operate in communities where a diverse workforce will feel welcome.  Arizona, one of the first states to pass a so-called “show me your papers” law, also experienced plummeting tourism revenues in response.

This bill would hurt Maine’s economy, sparking potential boycotts and dissuading people of color, whether native born or immigrants, from moving to Maine.   Maine needs immigrants, to keep population levels from shrinking and to have vibrant communities and a robust workforce.   LD 1449  sends exactly the wrong message.

MeBIC will oppose LD 1449 once a hearing date is scheduled.


Bills to Protect DACA/Dreamers, TPS and DED Holders Introduced in Senate

On March 26, 2019, two important bills were introduced in the Senate.

The Dream Act of 2019, introduced by Senators Lindsay Graham and Dick Durbin, would provide a path to permanent residency for immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children and for whom the U.S. is their only true home.   It would include those who currently hold Deferred Action for Childhood (DACA) status, and those who have been unable to obtain DACA since the administration terminated the program in September 2017.  Polls consistently show that more than three-quarters of the U.S. public support allowing this population to apply for permanent status in the U.S., and in the past, there has also been bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.

The  Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression and in Emergency (SECURE) Act would allow those who have lived, worked and put down roots in the U.S. under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) programs, the majority of whom have lived here for at least 20 years, to apply for permanent residency.

Earlier in March, the Dream and Promise Act of 2019 was introduced in the House of Representatives to provide an avenue towards permanent residency for these same populations.  Neither of the Senate bills has been printed as of this writing, so it’s too early to tell how closely the bills echo each other.

Over 1.1 million individuals currently have only court injunctions standing between them and the loss of their ability to live and work legally in the U.S. after the administration terminated DACA and determined that it would not extend TPS for individuals from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua and Sudan.  Maine has hundreds of DACA and TPS holders who are part of our communities and our workforce.

Legislation to finally eliminate their uncertainty and to provide eligible Dreamers, TPS and DED holders with a permanent future in the U.S. is the right thing to do from a humane and values perspective, and also for our economy.  Business leaders, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, CEOs from some of the nation’s largest companies, are on the same side as organized labor in supporting this effort.

Maine businesses should join them in urging Congress to get this done in 2019.




H-1B Filing Season for FY 2020 Starts April 1st

For businesses seeking to hire noncitizen professionals with specialized knowledge for positions starting on or after October 1, 2019, the opening day for filing their applications for H-1B temporary work visas begins, as usual, on April 1, 2019.

If past years are any guide, within a few days, the 65,000 cap for individuals with bachelors degrees, and the 20,000 cap for masters degree holders will be exceeded, and petitions that will advance will be selected by lottery.  While USCIS has designed a new process intended to remove the uncertainty that the lottery process causes employers and potential H-1B employees alike, it will not be applied until FY 2021.  However, other changes will take effect for FY 2020 that are likely to result in fewer H-1B petitions being approved for positions that don’t require a masters degree.

USCIS provides information about which positions are subject to or exempt from the cap, updated filing addresses, and updates on the H-1B cap count for FY 2020 here.

The H-1B cap and process are archaic and fail to meet the U.S.’s, and employers’ needs for talent in order to remain globally competitive.  Congress should make modernizing the laws a priority this legislative session.


MeBIC Applauds Republican Leaders Who Condemn State GOP’s Xenophobic Tweets

Amid public debate over a bill at the State Legislature that would eliminate philosophical and religious opt-outs from state vaccination requirements, the vice-chair of Maine’s GOP seized the opportunity to blame immigrants to Maine for the rise in illnesses that are vaccine-preventable, with a tweet on  the official party Twitter account.

This scapegoating of immigrants continues a theme perpetuated by Maine’s former governor Paul LePage, who without any factual basis, blamed immigrants for Hepatitis, the “Ziki fly” (sic), and other illnesses.

MeBIC applauds members of the Republican Party, such as Senator Dana Dow, and former Senator Roger Katz for speaking out against the ignorance and xenophobia that the vice-chair’s tweet represents.  But the Maine GOP has remained silent, and the tweet was still up on the Maine GOP’s Twitter feed as of this writing.

Immigrants are an asset.  Maine needs immigrants and their energy and talents to have vibrant communities and a strong workforce and economy.  If the Maine GOP wants the state to thrive, it should be tweeting messages to welcome, not to vilify, immigrants to Maine.

And the Maine GOP should not spread misinformation about immigrants and vaccinations in order to sow division.   A map of vaccination rates shows that public elementary schools in  Bar Harbor, Blue Hill, Eliot, Greenville, Rangeley, and Winslow, among others, have far lower vaccination rates than those in towns with higher noncitizen populations such as Portland and Lewiston.

In reality, before gaining admission to the U.S., all immigrants and refugees are required to prove that they are up to date on all vaccinations recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control.  If not, they will be re-vaccinated, unless the vaccinations are medically contraindicated.  All children of asylum seekers and other noncitizens must show their vaccination records or receive vaccinations under the same terms as native-born Maine children before they can attend school.

The Maine GOP should take down its offensive and divisive tweet, and embrace the immigrants who are vital to Maine’s current and future prosperity, just as they were to Maine’s past.

Canada’s Pro-Immigration Policies Produce Record Population Growth in 2018

A Bloomberg article analyzing Canadian governmental data reports that 2018 was a banner year for immigration to Canada.   Canada welcomed over 321,000 immigrants and refugees in 2018, the largest influx since 1913.

As we’ve written previously, Canada faces the same demographic challenges as the U.S., with an aging workforce and low birthrates.  But Canada is tackling those challenges in part by aggressively modernizing its immigration laws, at the same time that the U.S. is making it harder for talent to come or stay legally in the U.S.   Immigrants now make up more than 20% of Canada’s population.

As the Bloomberg  article notes:

The increase in international migration…. has helped fuel a surge in employment — even amid sluggish indicators in other parts of the economy — since immigrants tend to be of working age.

The strong immigration numbers also make up for slower natural population growth. Canada’s natural population increase, or the number of births less deaths, fell to 103,176 in 2018, the lowest level since at least the late 1940s.

Canada has taken particular steps to welcome international students into its higher education and graduate programs, and reformed its laws to make it easier for them to remain permanently following graduation.  In a 2018 survey of international post-secondary students in Canada by the Canadian Bureau of International education, 75% of respondents stated that the ability to work in Canada after finishing their educations was essential or very important to their decision to choose to study in Canada, and  60% stated that they hoped to stay in Canada permanently.   Canada’s reputation as a tolerant and largely non-discriminatory country also was cited by 79% of respondents as a reason for choosing to study in Canada, and impressions that it is a safe country influenced 78% of them.

While the ranks of international students in Canada are increasing,  the number of international student F-1 visas issued by the U.S. decreased 23% in FY 2018 compared to FY 2016.   The impact of this decrease for the future of the U.S. economy, particularly because of international students’ high concentration in  STEM fields, cannot be understated, as discussed here.

The U.S. government’s immigration rhetoric and practices are increasingly nationalistic and unwelcoming to immigrants.  For a strong economy, we should change course and emulate our neighbor to the north.



Polls – More Americans Support Immigration

A biennial survey first conducted in 1972 has found that more Americans support keeping immigration at current or increased levels than at any time in the poll’s history.

According to an AP report, the General Social Survey data released in March 2019 found that in 2018, 41% of those surveyed felt immigration to the U.S. should remain at current levels, and 23% supported increased levels of immigration.  Only thirty-four percent felt that immigration should be reduced.

These survey results show a marked change in attitudes not only since 2004, but even since 2016.  In the past two years, support for higher immigration levels grew by 6%, while support for decreased immigration shrank by 7%.

However, the report also showed the partisan divide around immigration, with Democrats far more likely to favor the same or increased immigration levels, and Republicans twice as supportive than Democrats of reduced immigration.  Nonetheless, Republican support for increased immigration grew slightly, and  10% fewer Republicans want reduced immigration compared to survey results in 2016.

Overall, however, the numbers in this and other polls reflect that the U.S. public is far more accepting of immigration as a strength than the administration’s rhetoric and actions would indicate.


Temporary Protected Status (TPS) Updates: Court Orders and TPS Extensions

March 12, 2019Court Case Retains TPS for Hondurans and Nepalese, for Now

On March 12, 2019, a federal court issued an order in Bhattarai et al. v. Nielsen, staying proceedings challenging the legality of the administration’s termination of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Honduras and Nepal.   This is a temporary reprieve for  individuals from those countries who would lose their ability to live and work legally in the U.S. when their TPS ended on June 24, 2019 (Nepal) and January 5, 2020 (Honduras).

Last October, the same court  enjoined the administration from carrying out its planned termination of TPS for citizens from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan in the Ramos v. Nielsen lawsuit.  The government’s appeal of that decision is still pending.

In the Bhattarai case, the administration and the plaintiffs agreed the case was so similar to the Ramos litigation that it made sense to agree to hold the case in abeyance  during the Ramos appeal.   In the stipulation, the administration agreed to treat the class of Honduran and Nepalese plaintiffs in the same way as it was ordered to treat the plaintiffs in the Ramos case.

As a result, until the Ramos case is finally resolved, TPS for eligible Hondurans and Nepalese will continue, and the administration will extend their work permits via notices in the Federal Register if their current ones expire during the ongoing litigation.

However, the best resolution for those with TPS would be passage of H.R. 6, the Dream and Promise Act of 2019which would provide many of them with a path to permanent legal status.   Hondurans have had TPS for twenty years, and Salvadorans for eighteen, during which time they have been working, paying taxes, having families, buying homes, and becoming solidly rooted members of our communities.   It makes sense from a humanitarian and an economic perspective to open a door through which long-term TPS holders can become permanent residents, and eventually full citizens of this country that is already their home.

March 8, 2019 TPS Extended for South Sudan

The administration has announced an extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) through November 2, 2020 for South Sudanese who currently have TPS or who meet the narrow eligibility criteria to apply despite having missed a prior re-registration or the initial registration period .

The timeframe for applying to re-register has not yet been announced.

March 1, 2019Government Complies with Court Order for El Salvadoran, Haitian, Nicaraguan and Sudanese TPS holders

In compliance with an October 3, 2018 injunction in Ramos v. Nielson, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it is extending through January 2, 2020  the validity of work permits and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) authorization for those with TPS  from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan.

TPS holders from these four countries will not have to re-register for TPS to benefit from the extension, as long as they continue to be eligible for TPS and they reregistered during the most recent re-registration period for their respective countries.  Further details are explained on this USCIS page.

Maine has many TPS holders from these countries who have long been members of our communities and workforce.  This a welcome reprieve not only for the affected individuals with TPS but also for their families, friends,  and employers.


Congress Introduces H.R. 6, the Dream and Promise Act of 2019

On March 12, 2019, H.R. 6, the Dream and Promise Act of 2019, was introduced in the House of Representatives, with 202 original co-sponsors, including Maine’s Representative Chellie Pingree.

H.R. 6 would provide a path to permanent residency for the over 1 million immigrants who have legal status through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs who are on the cusp of losing their status, but for court decisions blocking the administration’s termination of DACA and of TPS for El Salvadorans, Haitians, Hondurans, Nepalese, Nicaraguans, and Sudanese.

H.R. 6 would also provide a path to residency for immigrant youth who have been unable to apply for DACA since the program was terminated, and benefit similarly situated persons who have long lived legally in the U.S. and put down roots here, but who lack a path to full permanent status under current law.  Gaining a path to permanent residency would enable them to continue studying, working, serving in the U.S. military, and contributing to their communities.

This bill would not only benefit the eligible individuals, but also the U.S. economy.  This is why business leaders, including CEOs of leading national corporations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have urged Congress to act to provide a path to permanent residency for those with DACA and TPS.  Polls have shown strong majorities of the general public also support providing DACA and TPS holders with  permanent status.

Both of Maine’s Senators worked last year with a bipartisan coalition to provide a path to permanent residency for those with DACA, and TPS holders contribute similarly to our communities and workforce.  Ultimately, without the administration’s buy-in, the plan was not enacted.  Hopefully the entire Maine delegation will try to get the Dream and Promise Act over the finish line in 2019.

You can find a summary of what the bill includes here.

USCIS Overseas Office Closures Will Hurt U.S. Citizens and Military Service Members Abroad

In his State of the Union address on February 5, 2019, President Trump proclaimed his strong support for legal immigration.  Yet the administration continues to take steps to restrict and make legal immigration increasingly difficult.

In its most recent action, on March 12, 2019, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that it will close its overseas offices, reportedly to boost efforts reduce backlogs at its U.S. offices.

USCIS’s overseas offices mainly process visa petitions filed by U.S. citizens living and working abroad who are petitioning for the residency of their immediate family members prior to returning to the U.S.  They process citizenship applications by immigrants serving in the U.S. military, and by their spouses and children living abroad.  USCIS overseas offices also help U.S. citizens seeking to adopt children internationally.    Staff of USCIS offices abroad assist as well with refugee processing, including of immediate family members of refugees already resettled in the U.S.

Once those overseas offices close, U.S. citizens and military personnel living and working abroad are likely to have to mail their applications to USCIS offices in the U.S., where they will add to the backlog.   Significant delays and complications for U.S. citizens and service members planning to move back to the U.S. with their immigrant family members will result.

USCIS’s decision to close its overseas offices continues the administration’s trend against legal immigration, particularly targeting immediate family immigration, reflected in a  37% increase in denials of applications decided by USCIS in the first 9 months of FY 2018 , and a 39% increase in immigrant visa denials by the State Department in FY 2018 compared to the prior year.

With the country’s aging population, low birthrates, and low unemployment, the U.S. should be putting out the welcome mat, not shutting its doors.   The decision to close USCIS’s overseas offices is a step in the wrong direction.



Second Federal Court Blocks Citizenship Question on Census 2020

On March 6, 2019, a federal court in California enjoined the Department of Commerce from adding a question about citizenship status on the 2020 decennial census.

As we’ve written previously, the decennial census is designed to count all persons residing in the U.S. regardless of their legal status.  An undercount can impact apportionment of federal funding, as well as the number of a state’s representatives in Congress.

As a practical matter, the California federal court’s decision has little effect.  A prior decision by a federal court in New York had already blocked the addition of the citizenship question to the Census 2020 questionnaire.  That decision has  been accepted for review by the Supreme Court, and oral arguments will be heard in April, 2019.

Congress Presses Administration to Quickly Act to Increase FY 2019 H-2B Visas

As noted in this prior MeBIC post, the omnibus spending bill that averted a government shutdown included a provision to allow issuance of up to 135,320 H-2B non-agricultural seasonal work visas for FY 2019, a more than 69,000 increase in visas over the usual 66,000 annual cap.

This same fix has been included in spending bills in FY 2017 and FY 2018, and in each of those years, only 15,000 additional H-2B visas were made available by DHS, and too late in the year for employers to truly benefit from them.

Members of Congress have now appealed to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to issue the full 69,320 additional visas without delay, so that they can be used by businesses in Maine and elsewhere  who need to add staff from April 1st through the end of FY 2019 to meet their seasonal labor needs.

Maine Senators Susan Collins and Angus King  were joined by a bipartisan group of senators in a March 1, 2019 letter, and Senator Collins and Representative Chellie Pingree, along with 136 other Senators and members of Congress, signed a March 4, 2019 appeal urging the Department of Homeland Security to act without delay so that businesses will not one once again be economically harmed by a “too little, too late” authorization of additional H-2B visas.