Court Blocks Presidential Proclamation that Could Slash Immigration by 60%

On November 26, 2019, a federal court enjoined a Presidential Proclamation  requiring that immigrant visa applicants prove either that they can private-pay for their medical care in the U.S. or that they will have unsubsidized health insurance within 30 days after entry.

The injunction prevents the government from implementing the proclamation while litigation on its legality continues.

Maine joined twenty other states, plus the District of Columbia and the City of New York, in supporting the plaintiff’s challenge to the Presidential Proclamation.

As we’ve explained previously, the proclamation has the potential to slash immigration by more than 60%, and will particularly target immediate family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents seeking to immigrate.  Most of Maine’s immigrants come through family, so the proclamation would adversely impact the state if allowed to take effect.

The Presidential Proclamation would divide families, causing them emotional and financial hardship.  It would also damage the economy by dramatically cutting legal immigration when our nation’s, and Maine’s, unemployment rates are at record lows.   The court appropriately prevented it from taking effect during the  ongoing litigation.

H-2B Cap for First Half of FY 2020 Reached

USCIS has announced that on November 15, 2019, the cap of 33,000 H-2B non-agricultural seasonal work visas for the first half of FY 2020 (October 1, 2019-March 31, 2020) was reached.  This is more than three weeks earlier than last year.  Petitions subject to the cap with employment start dates prior to April 1, 2020 received after November 15th will be returned to their petitioning employers.

Employers hoping to acquire H-2B visas for non-agricultural seasonal positions that will begin between April 1 and September 30, 2020 can start the filing process on January 2, 2020.  The Office of Foreign Labor Certification will hold a webinar to “Update Stakeholders on the Process for Filing H-2B Applications With a Start Date of April 1, 2020, or Later”  on December 11, 2019.  Details on the webinar with a link for registration can be found here.

H-2B visas are used particularly in Maine’s seasonal hospitality sector. A 30,000 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 2019 expired on September 30, 2019.   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 2020 (April 1 – Sept. 30, 2020) once that filing window begins can check here.

Proposed Rule on Asylum Seekers Will Harm Economy and Violate Human Rights

On November 14, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed sweeping and unprecedented changes to how those seeking asylum protection in the U.S. will be treated while pursing their claims.

If the proposed rule change takes effect, it will be another step in the administration’s efforts to turn the U.S. asylum program, created by Congress decades ago, into a farce.  It will also harm the U.S., and Maine’s, economy.

The proposed rule would require asylum seekers who enter the U.S. through border posts to wait a full year after they apply for asylum before they could get a work permit to support themselves.  This is more than double their already long current wait of 180 days.

Even more harsh, the proposed rule would prevent asylum seekers from getting a work permit at all while their asylum applications are in process, if they entered “without inspection”.   The vast majority of asylum seekers entering the U.S. over the southern border enter without inspection because border officials are “metering” entries, forcing asylum seekers to wait months to enter legally.

To be clear, with over a million cases (of all types, not just asylum) pending in the immigration court system, and with hundreds of thousands of asylum cases already filed with the administrative asylum system, getting a decision in an asylum case routinely takes years.   Depriving asylum seekers, who, regardless of how they enter the U.S., have the legal right to apply for asylum under U.S. and international law, of the ability to work and support themselves for a year, or perpetually, while their asylum applications are in process, is effectively a statement that the U.S. does not want those fleeing harm to seek safety from persecution in this country.

The proposed rule acknowledges its economic costs, quantifying the potential lost earnings annually to asylum seekers due to delayed or complete inability to work at an amount ranging from over $1.7 billion to over $4.1 billion annually.

The administration also estimates the proposed rule’s annual effect on businesses:

“(I)f companies are unable to find reasonable labor substitutes for the position the asylum applicant would have filled then $4,461.9 million is the estimated maximum monetized cost of the rule.”

Furthermore, the proposed rule estimates that annual lost federal payroll taxes could be as high as $682.9 million annually.  The rule does not estimate the cost to the economy in foregone spending by asylum seekers in their local economies, nor the impact of lost state and local taxes.

Maine has an acute labor shortage, and needs workers.  Not only is this proposed rule a violation of the U.S.’s international law obligations, it is an economic disaster.   With the administration’s cuts to the refugee resettlement program, resulting in fewer refugees coming to Maine, and other proposals that would slash immediate family immigration, Maine needs asylum seekers to help keep the state’s population and workforce vibrant.

Asylum seekers, such as those who arrived in Portland during the summer of 2019 and who continue to arrive, choose to come to Maine not only because the state has a reputation as welcoming, but also because Maine already has established communities of immigrants from countries such as Angola, Burundi, the DRC, and Rwanda who can help them acclimate to the U.S.   Once they arrive here, asylum seekers want to work, be self-supporting, and to contribute to their new communities in Maine.

This proposed rule, coupled with another proposed rule that would require them to pay $490 for their initial work permits (which currently are free), would deprive asylum seekers of the dignity of being self-supporting, while also depriving Maine’s employers of their talents as employees.

Public comments on this rule will be accepted through January 13, 2020.   MeBIC will submit a comment voicing strong opposition to the proposed rule.  Please contact MeBIC if your business would like to submit a comment as well.



Proposed Immigration Fees Increase Would Raise Barriers to Legal Immigration

UPDATE:  In response to national advocacy efforts, on December 6, 2019, the government extended the deadline for public comment to December 30, 2019, instead of December 16th.

On November 14, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security issued a proposed rule raising the filing fees on dozens of applications processed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  The average proposed fee increase is 21%, but many increases are far higher, such as an 83% fee increase to apply for U.S. citizenship, a 79% fee increase in permanent residency applications for those who need to be able to work and travel while their applications are in process, and a 55% increase in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) renewal fees

The fee increases will make it harder for many people to apply for or keep their legal immigration status.

The proposed rule will raise new barriers, and higher fees, for employers to petition for foreign talent.   Instead of the current $460 fee,  USCIS would charge $860 for an H-2A visa petition for a named agricultural seasonal worker.  To petition for a named H-2B non-agricultural seasonal worker, the fee would increase to $725.  Fees for unnamed workers would decrease slightly from the current fees, but for the first time, USCIS would limit petitions to 25 unnamed  employees.  For example, a farm petitioning for 200 unnamed H-2A workers would have to file eight petitions, at a cost of $3,400 instead of the current $460.

Other employment-based petitions will also see fee increases, and processing changes.   For example, the fees for filing an L-1, O-1, and H-1B  petitions would increase by 77, 55, and 22 percent, respectively.  The rule would also relax the USCIS’s premium processing deadline from 15 calendar days to 15 business days–which the proposed rule acknowledges will cause “lost productivity” for employers.  The fee rule also would require employers with more than 50 or 50% H-1B and L-1 visa employees in the aggregate to pay a $4,000 or $4,500 fee, respectively, for individual employees’ visa extension requests.

Many of Maine’s immigrants are asylum seekers.   The proposed rule would introduce a fee to apply for asylum in the U.S., making the U.S. a global outlier (joined only by Iran, Fiji, and Australia) in requiring those fleeing persecution to pay to seek protection.  Additionally, it would for the first time require that asylum seekers pay for their initial work permits, at a cost of $490, despite the fact that asylum seekers cannot legally work to raise the money to pay the fee.

About two-thirds of Maine’s immigrants gain residency as immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.    For those able to apply for their green cards from inside the U.S. who need to be able to work and travel while their applications are in process, the 79% fee increase, to $2,195, plus the 49% increase in the fee for each child under 17, may delay their ability to regularize their status and to work legally in the State.

The proposed rule would eliminate the ability to request a fee waiver for most applications, including asylum applications and asylum seekers’ initial work permits, even where an individual is experiencing real economic hardship that could be cured, for example, by getting a work permit.

Congress long ago decided that USCIS must fund its operations primarily through filing fees rather than with Congressional appropriations.   However, this proposed rule would divert over $200 million of the fees raised by the increases to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), rather than to processing applications for legal immigration status and benefits.  Moreover, the rule does not propose using the fees to add staff so that USCIS can reduce long application processing times and improve service delivery.

Public comments will be accepted until December 16, 2019.  MeBIC will submit comments opposing the proposed rule.



MeBIC Urges Solution for DACA/Dreamers

On November 12, 2019, business and civic leaders in Maine spoke out at a press event to urge Congress to act to provide a path to permanent residency for those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA),  On that date,  the legality of the administration’s rescission of the DACA program was argued in the Supreme Court.  DACA continues now only as a result of lower federal court orders blocking the program’s rescission.

Over 700,000 immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children, including about 200 here in Maine, are part of our nation’s communities and economy.  Many have no memory of living in any other country.  As MeBIC Board member David Barber of Barber Foods/Tyson Foods said, “They’re full members of the communities in every sense. And the only thing they lack is permanent immigration status that will assure their futures here.”

Participating in the event were MeBIC partners CEI and Penobscot Community Health Care, as well as allies including Hospitality Maine, Scholars Strategy Network- University of Maine chapter, the Maine MultiCultural Center, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.

DACA holders’ fates are in limbo, awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision.  They don’t know if they will be able to retain their legal protections and work permits, their ability to study, work, and to support themselves. Similarly, their employers do not know if they will soon lose valued employees should the Supreme Court uphold the rescission of the DACA program.  The economic impact if DACA holders lose their status will cost the country dearly, in lost GDP, lost taxes, and in turnover costs for employers.

The House of Representatives has already passed the American Dream and Promise Act, which would provide a path to permanent residency for DACA holders/Dreamers.  It’s time for the Senate to pass, by a veto proof majority, a similar bill.   Doing so is the right thing to do for these individuals, and for the U.S. economy.

The event was covered by the Fox news affiliate in Bangor, the Portland Press Herald, and Maine Public, among others.


Record Low Unemployment Continues in Maine

Maine’s Department of Labor released preliminary data showing the unemployment rate in October 2019 at 2.8%, a slight decrease from the previous month.

This represents the 46th straight month of unemployment remaining below 4% in Maine.  Twelve Maine counties have rates under 3%, including Sagadahoc County at 1.8%. Cumberland County at 2%, and Hancock, Lincoln, Knox and York Counties at 2.1%.  The resulting workforce shortages are hampering not only growth, but also normal operations in many economic sectors in Maine, including hospitality, elder care, and agriculture.

Nationally, the unemployment rate in October 2019 was 3.6%, continuing a fifty-year low, with a million more job openings than there are job seekers.

Coinciding with the low unemployment rates and labor shortages are measures taken by the administration to cut legal immigration to the U.S., including slashing annual refugee admissions, and imposing new requirements currently enjoined by federal court orders, that could result in half as many immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents being able to immigrate.  The administration’s new policies and procedures, if  implemented, would result in hundreds of thousands fewer immigrants arriving in the U.S. annually, and at least 500 fewer in Maine.

Given our nation’s low birthrates and aging population, immigration is critical for the U.S. and Maine to continue to have vibrant communities and a strong economy.   The administration’s actions impeding immigration ignore that reality.

Bloomberg Businessweek on Immigrants in the New Economy

ICYMI:  Bloomberg Businessweek devoted its November 4, 2019 issue to the “New Economy”, and examined how countries like Canada and Japan have adjusted their immigration systems to make up for their shrinking labor forces by admitting more immigrants. The article also looks at Colombia, as an example of a country dealing with refugees.

In Japan’s case, the focus is on guest workers, but with some having a path to stay permanently.   In Canada’s case, the government is streamlining skills-based immigration.  Though not mentioned in the article, Canada is also admitting more refugees, and continues to admit family-based immigrants.

Similar to Japan and Canada, the U.S. has a similar aging workforce and low fertility rates, but seems incapable of grappling with immigration reform in Congress.   The U.S. will be playing catch-up globally in the competition for talent if the inaction continues.

You can find the Bloomberg Businessweek article here.


Immigrants Gaining Ground in Public Office in Maine

November 5, 2019 may have been an off-year election with no national races on the ballot, but it nonetheless was a momentous day in Maine.  Across the state, first and second generation immigrants won seats on their local city councils and school boards.

  • In Bangor, Angela Okafor, an immigrant from Nigeria, won a seat on the City Council, and Marwa Hassanien, whose parents immigrated from Egypt, won her race for School Committee.
  • In Brewer, Soubanh Phanthey, originally from Thailand, gained a seat on the City Council.
  • Hamden voted Tania Jean-Jacques, whose family immigrated from Haiti via Canada, onto the  RSU 22 School Board.
  • In Lewiston, Safiya Khalid became the first Somali immigrant since Somalis started settling in Lewiston in 2001 to win a seat on the Lewiston City Council, with over 69% of the vote.
  • In Portland, Pious Ali, an immigrant from Ghana, won an uncontested race for reelection to his at-large seat on the City Council, and Tae Chong, whose family immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea, won a 5 way race for the City Council’s District 3 seat.
  • In Westbrook, Claude Rwanganje, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who came to the U.S. and gained asylum, will now represent his district on the City Council.

These individuals have varying political affiliations and views, but they have one thing in common, a history of serving their communities in their work and as volunteers.

At MeBIC, we constantly sound the refrain that immigrants and their children not only help stem Maine’s depopulation and keep our economy robust, but that they also keep our communities vibrant.

These leaders who are stepping up to the call of public service in their local governments and school districts, make that message come alive.   MeBIC congratulates them for their hard work during their campaigns, and thanks them for their willingness to serve .


Report Affirms Recent Immigrants’ Upward Mobility

An October 2019 working paper finds that children of immigrants experience more upward economic mobility than children of U.S. citizens.   The findings hold true even for children of low income immigrants.

(W)e find that immigrants at the bottom of the income distribution from nearly every sending country, including those with a sizable negative earnings gap in the first generation, have higher rates of upward mobility than the children of the US-born. This finding stands in contrast to the view that immigrants of certain countries of origin are not be able to integrate into the US economy.

The report, by economists from Princeton, Stanford, and U.C.-Davis,  also finds that even though the countries from which immigrants arrive today differ from those of a century ago, the upward mobility of immigrant children remains consistent.

We find that, both historically and today, children of immigrants at the bottom of the income distribution have higher rates of upward mobility than children of the US-born and to a strikingly similar degree in each time period.

You can read the working paper here.

TPS Extended for Six Countries through January 4, 2021

On November 4, 2019,  the administration announced it will automatically extend TPS for all the nationalities who have had TPS and have sued the government challenging the legality of  its decisions to terminate their TPS.

Congress created TPS to allow foreign-born individuals already in the U.S. when natural disasters strike or civil conflicts erupt or escalate in their home countries to apply to stay and work legally in the U.S., until our government determines they can return.   Over 300,000 individuals nationwide from the affected countries  have TPS, many of whom have lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years.  Maine has several hundred TPS holders who are contributing members of our communities and workforce.

The following TPS recipients’ status is automatically extended through January 4, 2021, as long as they filed to re-register for TPS in the most recent two re-registration periods for their respective countries:
        • El Salvador
        • Haiti
        • Honduras
        • Nepal
        • Nicaragua
        • Sudan

Those TPS holders who qualify for the automatic extension do not need to file any applications with USCIS to benefit from the extension.  For work authorization purposes, they only need to show employers this Federal Register notice together with their work permits – that appear on their face to be expired – if those work permits include the classification and dates specified in the Federal Register notice.

The administration is providing the automatic extension to comply with federal court orders preventing it from terminating TPS for these individuals.  The government is appealing the court orders, but must comply with the court orders while the appeals are pending.

The House of Representatives passed H.R. 6, The American Dream and Promise Act over the summer with a bipartisan majority to provide a path to permanent residency for these TPS holders.  It’s time for the Senate to do the same, to end the uncertainty facing TPS holders and the communities and employers that have embraced them.

New Presidential Proclamation Would Dramatically Cut Legal Immigration

Nov. 3, 2019 UPDATE:

On November 2, 2019, the U.S. District Court in Portland, Oregon issued a Temporary Restraining Order blocking the Presidential Proclamation described further, below, from taking effect on November 3, 2019.

The TRO will be in place for 28 days, to allow time for a full hearing on whether the court should issue a preliminary injunction blocking implementation of the Presidential Proclamation while litigation challenging its legality is underway.

Oct. 31, 2019 UPDATE:

On October 30, 2019, the Department of State published a notice in the Federal Register, giving the public only one day to submit comments regarding their implementation of the Presidential Proclamation described below.

Also on October 30, 2019, a federal lawsuit challenging the legality of the Presidential Proclamation was filed, requesting an immediate injunction of the new policy.  The lead plaintiff is a U.S. citizen whose wife is scheduled for an immigrant visa interview on November 6, 2019, three days after the Presidential Proclamation is due to take effect.

On October 4, 2019, the White House issued a Presidential Proclamation requiring intending immigrants from abroad to prove that they either have the resources to pay for their own medical care, or that they will have unsubsidized health insurance within 30 days of entry into the U.S.    If they can prove neither, they will be unable to immigrate.  The new policy is supposed to take effect on November 3, 2019.

This Proclamation could result in a 65% drop in the issuance of immigrant visas, resulting in 375,000 fewer legal immigrants arriving in the U.S. annually.   Even though permanent residents are eligible to purchase insurance through the Affordable Care Act, including with subsidies if earning less than 400% of the annual poverty guidelines (an income of up to $103,000 for a family of four), access to subsidized insurance would not meet the health insurance requirement under the Proclamation.

While this policy in theory applies to all immigrants applying for immigrant visas while abroad, the impact will fall primarily on immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, and on Diversity Lottery immigrants.  The vast majority of employment-based immigrants are already in the U.S. when they apply for permanent residency, and additionally, are typically in professional positions that include health insurance as a benefit.  As a result, the new policy is unlikely to affect them.

Perversely, the Proclamation would exclude children under 18, unless they are immigrating together with their parent.  So, for example, the child of a permanent resident could immigrate, but that child’s parent, the spouse of the permanent resident, would be barred from immigrating if their petitioning spouse  works in a job that does not provide health insurance, and cannot afford to purchase health insurance for the immigrating spouse except through the ACA subsidized insurance through the ACA.

This new policy will result in separated families, along with the related emotional and economic costs that prolonged separations entail.  The new policy will also result in dramatically fewer working age immigrants joining the U.S. workforce and economy, at a time of record low unemployment  nationwide and in Maine, and  when our labor supply is shrinking as our population ages.

The administration repeatedly states that it supports “legal immigration”, yet its actions indicate otherwise.   In the span of a week, the administration’s announcement of drastic cuts in refugee admissions together with this new Proclamation will result in at least a third fewer new immigrants coming to the U.S. in FY 2020, compared to typical annual numbers over the past two decades.   This flies in the face of centuries of immigration tradition, and ignores the economy’s need for new workers, consumers, and entrepreneurs.

It’s likely that this Proclamation will be the subject of federal lawsuits challenging its legality.