New Rule Lets Consulates Deny Visas Wholesale to Entire Countries

A new regulation took effect on April 22, 2019 that allows consular officers to deny or refuse to accept all visa applications for citizens of countries that the U.S. wants to sanction for not timely issuing travel documents or facilitating the removal of their citizens from the U.S. .

The rule applies to foreign citizens applying for visas at U.S. consulates within their home countries,  whether for nonimmigrant (temporary) visas, such as for visitors, students, and professional level temporary workers, or for immigrant visas to confer permanent residency on immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, or on employees of U.S. companies.

The rule allows the administration to designate countries that it deems to be delaying or otherwise being unhelpful with repatriation efforts to deny visas to their citizens on a virtually wholesale basis, in a quiet fashion without the publicity and potential public outcry that accompanied President Trump’s earlier executive “travel ban” orders.

It remains to be seen how readily this new rule will be used, but it represents another example of how, without any Congressional action, the administration is reshaping the landscape  of legal immigration to the U.S.

30,000 Additional H-2B Visas Not Yet Available

On April 22, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security sent a final rule for review to the Office of Management and Budget, which is the last step before publishing the rule in the Federal Register.

The rule would authorize the issuance of 30,000 more  H-2B seasonal non-agricultural visas to add to the 33,000 H2B cap for seasonal positions starting before October 1, 2019.  The text of the rule has not been made publicly available.

The 30,000 visas are the result of a provision added by Congress to the omnibus spending bill that ended the government shutdown in February.  As discussed here, the Department of Homeland Security could have issued up to 69,320 additional H-2B visas before the end of FY 2019 under the terms of the Congressional fix, but chose not to.  In addition, there could be another restriction.  Reportedly the 30,000 visas will only be available to individuals who have been issued an H-2B visa previously in any of the three most recent fiscal years.

It remains to be seen whether that restriction will appear in the final rule, and when the final rule will actually be published in the Federal Register, signalling that USCIS is authorized to begin processing the additional  30,000 visas.

In any case, while the additional H-2A visas will provide some relief to a limited number of seasonal employers, given that it is already May, and that tens of thousands more positions were applied for nationwide than even the 30,000 additional visas will accommodate, once again, the H-2B visa program is likely to fall far short of meeting Maine employers’ seasonal hiring needs.

Maine’s Low Unemployment Streak Continues

Maine’s unemployment rate continues its long streak of staying below 4%.  The Maine Department of Labor’s recently released data for March 2019 shows Maine’s unemployment rate at 3.4% statewide, below the national rate of 3.8%.  Maine’s unemployment rate has remained below 4% since January 2016.

This is just another reminder that Maine needs people, whether from around the country, or around the world, if we are to have a strong labor supply that is essential for a robust economy.   Immigrants are an essential part of Maine’s future.

ICYMI – Immigration Stems U.S. Population Decline

Two recent articles highlight flip sides of the importance of immigrants in the face of our nation’s aging population and low birth rates.

The New York Times published an article  reporting that U.S. population growth is at its lowest levels since 1937.  The article highlightsa study by the Economic Innovation Group finding that 80% of U.S. counties and half of U.S. states experienced declines in their working age population from 2007-2017.

The EIG  study notes that 65% of counties will continue to experience these declines over the next decade, and that the decline is uneven, with 86% of counties growing more slowly than the nation as a whole.   Forty-one percent of counties  are experiencing demographic decline similar to Japan’s.   The EIG study resulted in a proposal for a “Heartland Visa” to attract immigrant talent to areas of the country hardest hit by population declines.

 In  Immigrants Propel Population Growth in 10% of U.S. Counties the Wall Street Journal presents the other side of the coin, examining areas of the country that have experienced population growth.    The article looks at census data and notes economists’ findings that the U.S. is becoming “increasingly dependent on immigrants  to fill jobs and fund programs like Social Security and Medicare” as immigration comprised 48% U.S. population growth in FY 2018, up from 35% in FY 2011.

As the WSJ article notes:

“We have a situation where U.S. fertility rates are really low and we’re not actively adding to the workforce through natural increase,” said Aparna Mathur, a resident scholar of economic policy at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington. “We cannot afford to talk about immigrants as bad for the U.S. economy.”

Notwithstanding the data, the Administration continues to take steps to limit legal immigration, including through increased denial rates for those seeking professional working visas, and trying to terminate the legal DACA or TPS status of nearly 1.1 million people, many of whom have lived here for decades and are already part of our communities and workforce.

The administration’s direction seems misplaced when, as the New York Times article concludes, “(w)hen it comes to the economy, at least, the country looks more like one that is too empty than too full.”




H-1B Visas for FY 2020 Fall Far Short of Demand, Again

On April 10, 2019,  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that it had completed the process of random selection of sufficient H-1B specialized knowledge work visa petitions for professionals to exhaust the 85,000 cap.

For the seventh year in a row, the demand for visas far outstripped supply, with petitions for over 201,000 positions received within five days of the start of the filing period on April 1st, up from the more than 190,000 visas requested last year.

The current cap of  65,000 bachelors degree level and 20,000 masters degree level H-1B visas is clearly inadequate.   The over 116,000 positions that were not selected in the lottery represent talent that U.S. companies were counting on to succeed.

It is past time that Congress acted to remove or substantially raise the H-1B cap.  Until a law change in 1990, there was no cap, and the number of H-1B visas rose and fell with the market.  H-1Bs reflect the economy, and demand for them dropped in response to the 2007 recession. The market, not a cap, is the best regulator of the number of H-1B visas to be issued.

In the current economy, with employers scrambling to find the talent they need due to persistent low  unemployment is low, the H-1B cap is an anachronism that hinders economic growth.



Administration Worsens its Own Border “Crisis”

Update:  On April 4, 2019, President Trump walked back his threat to close the border, following criticism from Republican lawmakers and economic leaders alike, regarding the economic damage a closure would cause.

As we have written previously, the “crisis” at the U.S. southern border is real, but it is a humanitarian crisis of the administration’s own making.

Now the administration is proposing to make matters worse.

Just days after DHS Secretary Nielsen announced a new cooperation agreement with the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, President Trump threatened to withhold all foreign aid to those countries, an action that would exacerbate the conditions in those countries causing their citizens to flee to the U.S.  Additionally, President Trump is threatening to close the border, despite the nation’s obligation under U.S. and international law to allow those seeking safety to have the opportunity to enter the U.S. to apply for asylum (and despite the likely economic damage such a move would cause, as the Cato Institute describes).

Despite all of the administration’s deterrence efforts: making asylum seekers wait for weeks to be processed at border posts; separating children from their parents; increased use of detention; increased criminal prosecutions for illegal entry; and pushing non-Mexicans back into Mexico to wait for their asylum claims to be heard unless they can prove they’d be persecuted or tortured in Mexico, asylum seekers continue to arrive at our southern border.

Apprehensions year-to-date are higher than in the past two fiscal years, but are still far lower than the 1.64 million who crossed between border posts in 2000.  Indeed, from 1983 until 2007, there were only 5 years where fewer than 1 million individuals were apprehended.  Additionally, the make up of those arriving now differs markedly from the past.   In 2000, government data shows that over 1.61 million of those encountered between border posts were from Mexico, and fewer than 29,000 were from other countries.  In contrast, in FY 2018, 152,000 of those apprehended were from Mexico, while 244,000 were from other countries.  And those who arriving in FY 2019 continue the trend of recent years of being mostly families with children or unaccompanied minors seeking safety from gang and political violence.  Of over 318,000 individuals apprehended in the first 5 months of FY 2019, only about 50,000 were not families or unaccompanied minors.

These migrants continue to come despite the dangers of the journey, and the hardship that they may face when they reach the border because they fear for their lives or safety at home and are seeking safety here.

Instead of exacerbating the humanitarian crisis, the  administration should change its focus from the border wall to boost funding for immigration judges and asylum adjudicators, in order to give those arriving at the southern border the due process they are legally and morally due.