On July 10, 2019, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1044, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019 by a 365 to 65 bipartisan vote. While the bill attempts to solve one problem, it does so at too high a cost.
Current immigration law imposes not only numerical limits on most categories of employment-based immigrant visas issued annually, but also per-country limits. These have resulted in wait lists for green cards for high-skilled immigrants from certain countries, particularly India or China, that are decades long, harming U.S. businesses in the global competition for talent. H.R. 1044 would phase in changes leading to elimination of the per country limits by FY 2023.
However, because the bill does not address the overall numerical limits of employment-based immigrant visas, this shift would create untenable wait lists for aspiring immigrants from all the other countries of the world. Not only they, but also the businesses that seek to employ them, would be disadvantaged by the effects of HR 1044.
The current waiting list for Indian and Chinese professionals need to be eliminated, but this must be accomplished through a thoughtful overhaul of the numerical limits on immigration, not by shifting the waits from those two countries to immigrants from other countries. HR 1044 addresses only part, not the whole, of the problem.
Maine’s Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden both joined the majority to vote in favor of HR 1044. A companion bill of the same name in the Senate, S. 386, currently has 36 cosponsors from both sides of the aisle, including Maine’s Senator Susan Collins.
Maine’s business community should encourage our Congressional delegation to work for a comprehensive overhaul of our immigration system, not piecemeal solutions that simply shift who bears the cost of the flawed structure.
A July 7, 2019 article in the Portland Press Herald highlights the growing labor shortage impacting Maine’s businesses, particularly those in the hospitality industry and other sectors that rely on seasonal labor. In case you missed it, you can read it here.
Steve Hewins of Hospitality Maine sounded the alarm in the article, stating “I always refer to tourism as kind of the tip of the spear of economic development, because it’s the thing that introduces people to Maine, perhaps to relocate here, perhaps to move a company here or work here,” he said. “So if we have a problem handling that, it’s going to impact beyond just hospitality.”
Dana Connors, CEO of MeBIC partner the Maine State Chamber of Commerce added that “in a recent survey of about 1,200 Maine businesses….three of the top five problems cited by respondents were workforce-related. The problem isn’t limited to any one industry or region of the state.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of Maine residents holding DACA or TPS status who are living and working here legally have only court orders standing between them and the loss of their legal status and the requirement to leave the U.S. Nationwide, about 1.1 million others are in their same position. The House of Representatives passed H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act, that would provide a path to permanent residency for them. Maine businesses should tell our Senators to take up companion legislation as one step towards stemming Maine’s, and the nation’s demographic and labor crisis.
Additionally, Maine’s recently arrived asylum seekers want to work but federal laws prevent them from doing so for at least 180 days after they apply for asylum. Maine’s Representative Chellie Pingree has introduced legislation to allow issuance of work permits 30 days after filing for asylum. Maine needs workers, and immigrants, including asylum seekers, want to work. Congress should make that happen.