Administration Will Extend TPS for Salvadorans until January 4, 2021

On October 28, 2019, the administration announced that as part of broader collaboration agreements between El Salvador and the United States, the U.S. has agreed to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Salvadorans until January 4, 2021.  The timeframe for Salvadorans to apply to extend their TPS has not yet been announced.

Previously, the administration had terminated Salvadoran TPS, resulting in litigation and a federal court order maintaining Salvadoran TPS, which ended in September, through January 2, 2020 while the litigation is ongoing.

There are nearly 200,000 Salvadorans in the U.S. who have had TPS for more than 18 years, including many who live in Maine.  They have built lives here, have U.S. citizen children who have grown up here. and they are part of our communities, our workforce, and our economy.

While having another full year of TPS status is a relief for them, it is time for Congress to pass legislation offering Salvadorans a path to permanent residency.  The House has already done that, when it approved H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act.  The ball is now in the Senate’s court.  It is past time for the Senate to act.



Proposed Rule Will Delay Initial Work Permits for Asylum Seekers

The Administration has proposed a rule change that will cause asylum seekers to wait longer than they currently do to get their first work permits.   This would not only lengthen the time that asylum seekers have to rely on charity to survive, but will cause economic damage by delaying the entry of willing workers into the labor force.

Current regulations require asylum seekers to wait to apply for a work permit until 150 days after they file their asylum applications, but then mandate that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) decide the work permit applications within 30 days of receipt.   Because USCIS consistently took longer than the required 30 days, a lawsuit was filed and in December 2018, a federal court ordered USCIS to comply with the regulations.

The Administration is proposing to remove that 30 day adjudication time frame from the regulation, expressly stating that processing times will then revert back to what they were prior to the Court’s order, when USCIS  failed to meet that deadline 53% of the time.

The Administration admits it could add more  staff in order to comply with the current regulation, but doesn’t estimate what that would cost, and dismisses that approach as failing to provide an immediate solution to the problem due to on-boarding and training time.

The Administration does, however, estimate the cost to asylum seekers whose ability to work will be delayed due to this rule change, finding that  the estimated range of lost earnings to asylum seekers annually will range from $255 million to $774 million.

The proposed rule’s preamble  notes that in turn, this will result in an estimated $39 million to $118 million in lost federal payroll taxes annually.  The Administration doesn’t attempt to project the additional tax losses at the state and local levels.

The Administration fails to calculate, but acknowledges, that this rule change will also cost employers in lost productivity and profits by depriving them of a labor pool, also noting that with the nation’s current historically low unemployment rates, providing work permits meets an economic need.

The Administration states that increased volume and some cases requiring additional information mean that USCIS needs more than 30 days to process work permit applications.   Yet, that problem could be resolved by proposing that asylum seekers submit their asylum and work permit applications simultaneously.   Federal statutes state that an asylum seeker can’t get a work permit sooner than 180 days after applying for asylum, but are silent on when the work permit application can be submitted.  It is only by regulation that asylum seekers can’t file their work permit applications until their asylum cases have been pending for 150 days.  The administration could remove that 150 day wait from the regulation, giving USCIS 180 days to process the work permit application, which according to data in the proposed rule would be enough time to adjudicate over 96% of the work permit applications received.

Maine’s unemployment rate is at record lows, estimated at 2.9% in September 2019.  Asylum seekers are typically of working age, and play a critical role in shoring up Maine’s shrinking labor supply.  They already must wait six months to get their first work permit, which is an assault on their dignity, and a huge waste of human capital.  Neither they, nor the employers eager to hire them, should have to wait even longer.

Public comment on the proposed rule will be accepted through November 8, 2019.  MeBIC has submitted a comment strongly opposing this rule change.   Contact MeBIC if you’d like help to do the same.



“Public Charge” Rule and Proposed Refugee Cuts Would Cause Steep Drops in Legal Immigration to U.S.

UPDATE  (Oct. 15, 2019):

On October 11, 2019, in advance of the October 15, 2019 effective date of the  Public Charge Rule, discussed in the post below,  a federal district court in New York issued a nationwide injunction blocking the rule from taking effect while it is challenged in the courts.  As of October 15th, four other federal district courts in California, Illinois, Maryland, and Washington had also issued injunctions to block implementation of the rule.   (Maine is one of the state plaintiffs in the California case).  Also on October 11, 2019, to align with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s Public Charge Rule, the Department of State issued an interim final rule  applicable to individuals applying for visas at U.S. consulates abroad.  While the court injunctions apply only to DHS’s rule, on October 15th the State Department indicated that it will hold off on applying its new public charge rule temporarily.  Public comments on the Department of State’s rule will be accepted through Nov. 12, 2019, and it’s likely that it, too, will be subject to federal court challenge.

Regarding Refugee Resettlement in FY 2020, as discussed in this post, the administration announced it will cap refugee admissions at 18,000 for FY 2020 and newly require that states and localities specifically consent to accepting refugees for resettlement.  These changes may result in even fewer than 18,000 refugees being resettled, and represent an abdication of the U.S.’s historic role since 1980 as the world’s leader in offering permanent safe haven to refugees.

Additionally, as we explain here, a new health insurance requirement that immigrants from abroad either have the financial means to pay for their medical care, or have proof that they will be able to acquire unsubsidized (ie. not through the ACA) health insurance within 30 days after arrival in the U.S. is predicted to result in as many as 375,000 immigrants annually being denied their visas to immigrate to the U.S.  Immediate family immigrants will be most impacted by this new requirement.

Finally, an update to the unemployment numbers mentioned below:  at 3.5%, the nation’s unemployment rate in September 2019 is the lowest since December 1969, and Maine’s 2.9% unemployment rate in August 2019 represents its 44th consecutive month below 4%.   The vast majority of immigrants to Maine come through the family and refugee streams.  Given Maine’s aging population and labor supply shortages, these cuts to legal immigration could not come at a worse time.

ORIGINAL POST (Aug. 14, 2019)

Maine’s July 2019 unemployment rate was 3%, remaining  below 4% for a record 43rd consecutive month.   At the same time, the state’s population continues to age and our workforce continues to shrink, presenting challenges for economic growth.  While Maine’s situation, as pointed out  recently by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, is more dire than the rest of the nation, the entire country will face constraints posed by an aging population and low birth rates.

This is not a time to put new limits on legal immigration.  However, the Trump Administration is doing just that through new rules affecting intending immigrants, and proposed reductions in refugee resettlement.

  • New Public Charge Rule:

On August 14, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officially issued a final rule  that will result in dramatic reductions in immediate family immigration.   A draft of the rule was released in October 2018,  changing decades of interpretation of the “public charge” ground of inadmissibility.   Despite over 250,000 comments opposing the draft rule, the final rule is substantially the same as the prior version, and is slated to take effect on October 15, 2019. An explanation of the key provisions and their impact can be found in this prior MeBIC post.

While the administration states that the rule will ensure that new immigrants don’t use public benefits, the draft and final rules’ lengthy preambles acknowledge that most immigrants have never received public benefits before immigrating, are ineligible for income support public benefits for their first five years of residency, and in general use benefits at similar or lower  rates than native-born U.S. citizens.   The unstated actual purpose of the rule is to reduce immediate family immigration, bypassing Congress, which has not backed the administration’s legislative efforts to achieve that goal.

Family immigration represents about 66% of all immigrants annually.  Implementation of this rule is likely to halve immigration by immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, and will have devastating effects for our aging communities and shrinking workforce.  As explained here, this will result in a substantial reduction of new immigrants settling in Maine, when the state needs newcomers to stem the challenges resulting from its aging workforce and depopulation.

You can find further critiques of the new rule in this Wall Street Journal  editorial  and this commentary from the Cato Institute.   This op-ed in the Portland Press Herald by MeBIC Board Member David Barber (in response to aspects of the proposed version of the rule, all of which remain in the final rule)  is a reminder that new immigrants, regardless of modest backgrounds and means, have long contributed to the fabric of the nation and will continue to do so in the future.

As of August 16, 2019, four lawsuits had been filed in the federal courts challenging the legality of the new rule and requesting that the government be enjoined from implementing it.  The State of Maine is a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits; you can read that complaint here.

  • Cuts to Refugee Admissions in FY 2020

Annual refugee resettlement ceilings, set each year by the President, have been slashed from former President Obama’s 110,000 number in FY 2017 to only 30,000 in FY 2019.   For FY 2020, the administration is reportedly considering cutting refugee admissions to between zero and 10,000.  This would be a complete abdication of our nation’s legal and moral obligations to offer protection to refugees at a time when there are a record 25.9 million  individuals worldwide who have been forced to flee their home countries.

In addition, it is economically short-sighted.   In Maine, refugee admissions are a fraction of what they were in FY 2016, when more than 650 refugees were resettled in the state.  As of July 31, 2019, Maine had received 131 refugees for resettlement, with only two months remaining in this fiscal year.

Together, refugees and immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents comprise the bulk of immigrants making Maine their new home each year.

Further cuts to refugee admissions, combined with cuts to family immigration as a result of the public charge rule, would result in approximately 1000 fewer immigrants settling annually in Maine compared to FY 2016 numbers, likely leading to net population loss in the state. 

The administration states it supports legal immigration.  Its actions speak to the contrary, and if implemented, will damage Maine’s communities and economy, as well as the nation’s.



DV-2021 Lottery Registration Begins on October 2, 2019

The State Department has announced that registration for the Diversity (DV) lottery for fiscal year 2021 will be open from noon (EST) on October 2, 2019 through noon (EST) on November 5, 2019.

The DV lottery allows foreign-born individuals, whether they are outside of or in the U.S., to apply for a chance to immigrate to the U.S.    A person who is selected next spring after registering this fall for the DV-2021 lottery will able to apply for permanent residency (the “green card”) at the start of FY 2021 on October 1, 2020.  S/he may be able to apply with USCIS, if s/he is already in the U.S. and is otherwise eligible, or else may apply with the State Department for an immigrant visa interview at the appropriate U.S. consulate abroad.   The person will undergo the usual medical exam and criminal and security background checks before being interviewed or approved to immigrate.

The lottery is pure luck.  But up to 50,000 people  gain residency each year because they happened to be lucky.

A person who is in the U.S. on a work permit, such as an asylum seeker, who entered the U.S. legally and has never violated her/his status, can register for the lottery and if selected, may be able to get her/his green card through the lottery.   Registering for the lottery doesn’t adversely affect a person’s current status or other applications already pending with USCIS.

Individuals in the U.S. who have been out of status should talk with an immigration lawyer before bothering to apply, since time out of status may make it impossible to get a green card, even if selected in the lottery.

Eligibility requirements for the DV-2021 lottery include:

  • Not being from one of the ineligible countries (see list in the announcement);
  • Having completed high/secondary school in the U.S. or abroad (a G.E.D. is not sufficient); or
  • Having worked for at least two years of the previous five years in a skilled trade, which is one that takes at least two years to become qualified in it.

There is no age requirement, although people under 18 may not qualify if they haven’t yet met the education or skills requirement.

A new requirement this year is that applicants must have a valid, unexpired passport at the time of registering for the DV lottery.  In the past, applicants only needed to get a passport if they were selected in the lottery.  As a practical matter, this may make it impossible for many people to apply, whether they are already here in the U.S. or are abroad, because they may be unable to get a passport in time, or at all.

An individual may only submit ONE lottery application.  If more than one is submitted, the person will be disqualified.  However, spouses can include each other, giving them two chances to be selected (but each spouse must meet the eligibility requirements).  All children who are unmarried and under 21 must be included on the registration application in order to be allowed to immigrate if their parent is selected in the lottery.

Employers in Maine with employees currently working with work permits, such as asylum seekers, should encourage their employees to get additional information about eligibility to register for the lottery.  While it’s a long shot, many asylum seekers have won the lottery in the past and gained residency through it while their asylum cases remained stuck in processing backlogs.

Note that lottery registration is FREE.  Instructions and the application form is posted on the State Department’s website.  Those signing up for the lottery from inside the U.S. should avoid any website that asks for a fee to register, and also avoid people who are not lawyers or authorized by the Board of Immigration Appeals to provide immigration law assistance, who ask for money to “help” with a lottery application.  Unauthorized practice of law is illegal in most states, including in Maine.

MeBIC is available to come and talk with employees at Maine businesses and nonprofits to help them understand the lottery and whether it may or may not be worth it for them to register.  Contact MeBIC for more information.

Refugee Arrivals, Already Exponentially Reduced, to be Cut Further in FY 2020

The White House has stated it will set the refugee admissions ceiling in FY 2020 at 18,000, an historic low since passage of the Refugee Act of 1980, and  dramatic reduction from FY 2016 when nearly 85,000 refugees were resettled.   The official Presidential Determination has not been published at this writing.

But the White House also announced a new policy requiring consent from specific states and localities before any refugees will be resettled there.   In practical terms, this means that locally, not only the State of Maine, but also Portland, Lewiston, Augusta, and any other Maine community that wants to resettle refugees must put that in writing to the federal government.

The White House has directed the government to develop a procedure for obtaining consent within 90 days.  This virtually guarantees that no refugees will be admitted during the first quarter of FY2020 that begins on October 1, 2019.  Any delays in implementing the new process could effectively result in far fewer than 18,000 refugees being resettled next fiscal year, at a time when there are a record nearly 26 million refugees globally who cannot return to their countries.

In Maine, this reduction comes when our communities and workforce are aging and shrinking and unemployment is at record lows.  Refugees have been a steady source of new Mainers since 1980, but in recent years their numbers have plummeted.  In FY 2016, about 650 refugees were resettled in Maine.  In FY 2019, only 140 were.   The administration’s new refugee limits and policies betray the nation’s values, and are economically short-sighted as well.   Maine, and the U.S., needs refugees.

This fact sheet from the Pew Research Center highlights some key facts about refugee resettlement in the U.S. and changes to the program under the current administration, while reports describing refugee resettlement’s net economic benefits to the U.S. economy can be found here and in this more recent post from the Wharton School of Business.