Efforts Resume to Fund L.D. 647 at State Legislature

MeBIC, together with the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and other MeBIC business partners is working to get at least partial funding for L.D. 647, An Act To Attract, Educate and Retain New State Residents To Strengthen the Workforce, which was approved by the State Legislature in 2019 and carried over to this session for funding.

While L.D. 647 predated issuance of the Maine Economic Development Strategy 2020-2029 report, it is a workforce development bill  that squarely aligns with, and will jump-start reaching that report’s objectives to attract new talent expressed at Action B4.

State revenues in FY 2020 have exceeded projections.  Nonetheless, the Appropriations and Financial Affairs (AFA) committee has bills before it collectively costing over a billion dollars.  We recognize that getting full funding ($1.5 million/year) for L.D. 647 this year is highly unlikely, and so must prioritize what parts of the bill are the most urgently needed this year.

Statewide, adult education students attending English as a Second Language (ESL) classes comprised 41.7% of all adult education students during the fall 2019 semester, and in some cities that percentage is nearly 60%.  Adult education programs confirm that if they had more capacity their ESL student population would be even higher, but currently they fall far short of meeting the demand.

English is the key to immigrants, from manual laborers to professionals, getting and advancing in employment.  MeBIC and our partners have asked the AFA committee to prioritize Sections 2, 3, and 5 of L.D. 647,  funding additional ESL classes and combined job skills/ESL classes, as well as a Welcome Center in Lewiston to help immigrants get jobs that reflect their capabilities.

We are still early on in the Appropriations process.   Stay tuned, and contact MeBIC if your business would like to help us in this funding effort.  L.D. 647 will help Maine’s immigrants reach their full potential in our communities and workforce, benefiting them, Maine’s employers, and the State’s economy.

New H-1B Registration Process Starts on March 1, 2020

On March 1, 2020, a new registration system announced more than a year ago will take effect for employers hoping to obtain H-1B visas for temporary professional level staff.

Many employers in the U.S. seek H-1B temporary worker visas to employ highly educated and skilled professionals.  Often these are individuals who have received their educations at U.S. universities and may already have worked for their petitioning employer through “optional practical training” during or immediately after completion of their undergraduate or graduate degrees.

Most positions are subject to a statutory cap of 65,000 H-1B visas, plus another 20,000 H-1B visas for individuals who have attained masters, or higher, degrees.

In the past, filing petitions with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has begun on April 1st of each year for positions starting during the next fiscal year.  For several years now, the cap has been reached within 5 days of April 1st, with demand for the visas far outstripping supply.

To prevent employers from investing the time and expense of preparing detailed H-1B visa petitions only to be shut out by the cap’s exhaustion, this year,  employers must “register” their intention to file for H-1B visas between March 1 and March 20, 2020.  If registrations for  H-1B positions exceed the visa cap, registered employers not making it under the cap will be informed so that they can avoid continuing on with preparing the visa petitions.

The new process will not diminish the hardship to employers who cannot get H-1B visas for talented employees if they are shut out by the low visa cap.  But at least it could lessen the amount of salt in the wound by allowing employers to avoid expending the time and funds required to prepare the full H-1B visa petition.

You can read more details about the new process here.

The fundamental reality is that the H-1B cap does not reflect the demands of today’s economy.   Decades ago, there was no cap, and market forces determined the number of H-1B visas granted each year.  It’s time to seriously consider returning to that system.

Maine Counties Weigh in on Refugee Resettlement

In January, 2020, Penobscot County was asked to refuse to consent to refugee resettlement, despite the fact that Catholic Charities Maine (CCM), the state’s only refugee resettlement agency, has never resettled refugees in Penobscot County.  In the end, after receiving facts  (see below) about refugee resettlement from CCM and data about the positive economic contributions of refugees from MeBIC, and community feedback supporting refugees, the Penobscot County Commissioners agreed to welcome refugees if they should ever want to live there.

Other counties have entered the debate recently, as well, with Piscataquis and Franklin County Commissioners  voting not to consent to refugee resettlement.  Again, CCM has never resettled refugees in those counties, nor do they have plans to do so.  And refugees are free to move anywhere in the country, just as U.S. citizens can, regardless of where they are initially resettled.

Both Franklin and Piscataquis Counties have declining populations, more residents over age 65 than under age 18, unemployment under 4%, and a shrinking workforce.  They should be sending messages to attract new residents, regardless of their origins.  Their recent votes send a contrary message that may discourage immigrants and nonimmigrants, whether temporary seasonal or professional level workers, international students, and even U.S. born children of immigrants, from choosing to live and work in their counties.

Hancock County has been asked by county residents to affirmatively consent to refugee resettlement, should CCM ever wish to resettle refugees there, and will take the issue up on March 3rd.   Franklin County will also receive more information from CCM and MeBIC about refugees and the resettlement process,  and feedback on its vote not to consent, at its March 3rd meeting.

The issue was raised due to an unprecedented Executive Order (E.O.) issued by the President on September 26, 2019 purporting to give states and localities veto power over refugee resettlement. That (E.O.) was enjoined by a federal court on January 15, 2020 while its legality is challenged.  Prior to that Governor Mills gave Maine’s consent to participate in refugee resettlement, as the state has done for over 40 years. Given the historic and current contributions of refugees and immigrants to Maine’s communities and economy, Governor Mills made the right choice for Maine’s future from a values and an economic perspective.

Facts about refugees:

Despite starting there lives over in the U.S. from scratch, in a relatively short period, refugees contribute more to the economy in taxes than they consume in public benefits. A draft government report found in 2017 that within ten years of arrival in the U.S., refugees contributed more in taxes than they received in benefits.[1]   A 2017 National Bureau of Economic Research working paper found that within six years of arrival, refugees have higher rates of labor force participation than native U.S. citizens, even if their wages may be lower, and within twenty years of arrival, have contributed $21,000 more in tax payments than they received in public benefits.[2]

Other data indicates that refugees become entrepreneurs at higher rates than U.S. citizens and even than other immigrants, and in 2015, refugee-owned businesses generated over $4.6 billion in business income nationwide.[3] That year refugees also paid nearly $21 billion in federal, state, and local taxes, and had over $56 billion in purchasing power. More refugees are in their prime working years than the native-born population, with over 77% of them of prime working age in 2015, compared to over 49% of native U.S. citizens.[4] Data specifically for Maine’s District 2  (in which each of the counties considering the “refugee consent” sit) indicates that in 2014, more than 750 immigrants, including refugees, owned businesses, and immigrants paid more than $34 million in state and local taxes.[5]

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/19/us/politics/document-Refugee-Report.html

[2] https://www.nber.org/papers/w23498

[3] https://research.newamericaneconomy.org/report/from-struggle-to-resilience-the-economic-impact-of-refugees-in-america

[4] Id.

[5] https://www.newamericaneconomy.org/locations/maine/maine-district-2/

New “Public Charge” Rule that Will Reduce Legal Immigration Takes Effect

On February 24, 2020, the administration’s new “public charge” regulation took effect, even though its legality is still being legally challenged.

As explained previously, the impact of the new rule will divide families by falling most heavily on intending immigrant immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.  It will also affect those selected to apply to immigrate through the Diversity Visa Lottery.  These two populations are likely to see a dramatic increase in immigrant visa and permanent residency denials.

But the rule also applies to anyone requesting an initial nonimmigrant (temporary) visa or admission as a nonimmigrant,  as well as to those immigrating through their employment.  As a practical matter, none of these latter categories are likely to see increases in “public charge” denials.  That does not mean that the new public charge rule won’t affect them, however.

Nonimmigrants and immigrants alike to whom the rule applies will have to answer questions about past public benefits receipt, despite their ineligibility for the benefits at issue in most cases.  For nonimmigrants, these questions will be a nuisance, but not overly burdensome.

However, immigrants, even those immigrating through employment, will now have to answer detailed questions to prove their ability to be self-sufficient.  If they are applying for residency from inside the U.S., they will need to complete the new 18 page USCIS form I-944, and provide documentation not only of their own, but also of their household members’ income,  taxes paid, health insurance coverage, credit reports, assets, debts and liabilities (including credit card debt).  They will also have to list their employment and educational history, even if already provided previously, and document their language proficiency in English and any other languages.  Immigrants applying for an immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate abroad will have to complete the new 4 page DS-5540 form and provide information about health insurance coverage, educational history, income, tax filings, assets and liabilities, but will not have to provide as many documents as those inside the U.S. must.

The new questions, forms, and documentation requirements will substantially increase the time and expense involved in preparing the paperwork for nonimmigrant or immigrant visa issuance abroad, or for immigrant applications in the U.S.   The I-944 form is particularly daunting, with 15 pages of instructions that could confuse many, especially those navigating the process without legal representation.

Estimates are that new rule will lower legal immigration by hundreds of thousands of people annually, particularly U.S. citizens’ and permanent residents’ immediate family members, although the exact impact remains to be seen.

However, two things are certain: the new public charge rule injects a daunting new level of complexity into already complicated immigration procedures, and the U.S. economy, which needs more people, not less, to shore up its aging population and workforce, will suffer as a result of this rule.


USCIS Announces H-2B Cap Reached for Second Half of FY2020

On February 18, 2020, USCIS reached the 33,000 cap for H-2B non-agricultural seasonal worker visas for positions beginning during the second half of the FY 2020 fiscal year (April 1- September 30, 2020).   You can see the cap count here.  Any cap-subject petitions received after February 18th will be rejected and returned to their petitioning employers.

Congress, as it has done for multiple years now, authorized a potential increase of up to 69,320 H-2B visas beyond the cap for the second half of FY 2020 in its most recent budget bill, H.R. 1865, the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020, enacted on December 20, 2019.  Despite that authorization being approved  months earlier than in prior years, as of this writing, the administration has yet to release additional H-2B visas, even though the nearly 100,000 H-2B visas  requested during the first three days of January 2020 clearly demonstrated demand far exceeding the 33,000 cap once again.

As we noted here, under revised processing procedures, only about a third of Maine’s employers’ H-2B petitions made it into the first group randomly selected for processing, and it’s likely that fewer than half of Maine’s employers will receive the H-2B visas they requested.

It is past time for Congress to make permanent changes, not year to year cap increases, if employers are to be able to rely on the H-2B program for their seasonal labor needs.


New Census Bureau Report Confirms Immigration Stems U.S. Population Declines

A February 2020 report from the U.S. Census Bureau examines the effect on the U.S. population by 2060 if immigration were to continue at current rates,  higher rates, lower rates or if immigration to the U.S. were cut to zero.

Of particular interest is the “low immigration scenario”, which presumes immigration being cut to half of its 2011 to 2015 rates, or roughly to 515,000 new permanent residents iannually.  This scenario is relevant since recent administration policies are putting the country on the fast track to that low annual number, including:

    • reducing the refugee resettlement cap in FY 2020 by more than 90,000 people compared to FY 2017;
    • the recently expanded travel ban:
      • 11,196 citizens from the newly added countries immigrated to the U.S. in FY 2019 who would have been blocked under the expanded travel ban had it been in effect;
    • the existing 2017 travel ban:
      • 25,547 citizens of Iran, Korea, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen immigrated in FY 2016 (the last fiscal year prior to the travel ban);
    • the new public charge rule, effective on February 24, 2020, whose English language proficiency and other new tests may make about half of all family-based immigrants ineligible to immigrate if they cannot show a household income of at least 250% of the annual federal poverty guidelines ($65,500 for a family of four in 2020), resulting in an estimated 300,000 fewer immigrants annually, including spouses of U.S. citizens.

Under its low immigration scenario, the news when considering a vibrant workforce, is somber.  The Census bureau projects:

    • more than 20% of the U.S. population nationwide will be older than 65 by 2026;
    • the number of people over age 65 will exceed those under age by 2031 (others project  Maine will reach that tipping point in 2020);
    • the number of children below age 18 will decline by a million by 2060;
    • total U.S. population will increase by only 16% by 2060

Maintaining current immigration levels, or increasing them,  would delay or mitigate all of these effects.

As this Brookings analysis of the Census Bureau report states, the

projections show that the current level of immigration is essential for our nation’s future growth, especially in sustaining the younger population.

If the U.S. wants to continue to have vibrant communities and a robust workforce and economy, the administration’s trend towards policies that reduce immigration may prove not to be in the nation’s best interest.




Government Data Shows Declines in Legal Immigration

Recently released data from the Department of Homeland Security for FY 2018 reveals a 7.35% decline in the number of new permanent residents to the U.S. since FY 2016.  The decline is actually 11% if refugees and asylees, who have been permanently living in the U.S. for well over a year by the time they get their green cards, are subtracted from the total.

The steepest drop in immigration is among family-based immigrants who are the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.  New permanent resident family members fell by 13.6% from FY 2016 to FY 2018.

A deeper dive into the data is available here.  That January 20, 2020 analysis noted that immigration could further decline by hundreds of thousands fewer immigrants annually if an expansion of the “travel ban”, or if the new expanded “public charge” definition, were to take effect.   Since it was written, the Supreme Court allowed implementation effective on February 24, 2020 of the new public charge rule while challenges to its legality are underway, and the administration announced an expanded travel ban,  effective February 21, 2020.

The  overwhelming brunt of the impact of these two developments will fall on intending immigrant immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, and those selected in the annual diversity visa lottery.  While the “public charge” rule theoretically applies to all classes of immigrants,  immigrants through employment are almost exclusively professionals for whom the new English language proficiency and other public charge tests are a non-issue.   And the travel ban expansion applies only to citizens of the affected countries who are immigrating from outside the U.S.   Only a minority  of employment-based immigrants (20% in FY 2018) enter from outside the U.S. to become permanent residents, while a majority of immediate family (64% in FY 2018)  and diversity lottery (98% in FY 2018) immigrants do.

At a time when other industrialized nations with  similar demographic trends to ours of aging populations, declining birthrates, and shrinking workforces, such as Canada, Germany and Japan, are taking steps to increase immigration to their countries for the sake of maintaining healthy economies and communities, the U.S.’s policies decreasing legal immigration deserve close scrutiny.


Updated Resource for Immigration Information and Data

The Migration Policy Institute has published a central resource for a broad array of immigration information and data, on topics including:

Children of Immigrants Have Positive Achievement Impact on K-12 Schools

An analysis from Brookings looks at resources consumed and outcomes in K-12 schools with Limited English Proficient (LEP) students, including first generation immigrant children and second generation U.S. citizen children of immigrant parents.

The report finds that the share of students with immigrant backgrounds in K-12 schools increased nationwide from 18% in 2000 to 32% in 2015.  And while teaching LEP students may demand more resources, the benefits of providing those resources not only helps LEP students to achieve, but also their non-LEP peers.

A comparison of K-12 schools with children attending who were exclusively three generations or more removed from their immigrant forebears (“isolated” schools), and schools with first and second generation children attending with third-plus generation students found that even after controlling for student backgrounds and school characteristics,

on average, third-plus generation students in isolated schools had lower test scores than their third-generation peers in schools that served immigrant students, despite isolated schools having more teaching resources and lower levels of poverty.

The analysis concludes that:

there is no direct evidence that the increased share of immigrant students in the U.S. has negatively affected the educational outcomes of third-plus generation students, either through peer effects or resource channels.

You can read the Brookings analysis here.

Immigrants from India Shifting to Canada as U.S. Raises Barriers to Legal Immigration

A recent Forbes article analyzing U.S. and Canadian immigration data indicates that international students and professional level immigrants from India are turning their sights to Canada, as the U.S. continues to raise barriers and delays to Indians trying to come to the U.S. to study or to live permanently.

In addition to the factors cited in the article that are reducing the attractiveness of the U.S. as a destination for professional level Indian immigrants is the administration’s intention to revoke a rule allowing wait-listed to immigrate H-1B visa holders’ spouses to get work permits so that they don’t have to put their own careers on hold during the decades Indian H-1B visa holders and their spouses will be waiting. The administration has long signaled its intention to revoke the work permit rule, as we’ve discussed previously, and may issue a proposed rule to that effect in March 2020, according to its Fall 2019 regulatory agenda.

The Forbes article points to Indian immigrants and international students more than doubling in Canada from 2016 to 2018, while their numbers have fallen in the U.S. during the same period, and explains several  contributing factors.  The takeaway:

New restrictions on H-1B visas and international students, combined with long waits for employment-based green cards, make America a less attractive destination than Canada for many high-skilled immigrants and their employers. Based on current trends, the situation is likely to grow worse for U.S. companies seeking to attract talent to America.

In addition, the administration’s trend since 2017 to cut all levels of legal immigration to the country, through dramatically lowered caps on refugee admissions, travel bans, reductions in immigration by members of the immediate families of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, among other measures, does not bode well for the U.S.’s ability to shore up an aging and shrinking workforce, and for the U.S. economy long-term.


New Travel Ban Further Restricts Legal Immigration

On January 31, 2020, the White House issued a Proclamation expanding application of the 2017 travel ban, adding six countries whose citizens will be restricted from U.S. visa issuance and entry to the U.S. as of February 21, 2020 due to concerns about the six countries’ identity-management and information-sharing deficiencies.

The countries are Eritrea, Kyrgystan, Myanmar (Burma), Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania, which are specifically impacted as follows:

Note that immigrants come to the U.S. to reside as permanent residents (“green card” holders) as immediate family members of U.S. citizens or permanent residents, through employment, or after selection in the Diversity Lottery.  Nonimmigrants, who are not banned under the Proclamation, are those coming to the U.S. for temporary purposes, such as visitors, students, or on temporary work visas, among others.

The new ban’s targeting of immigrants, who are closely scrutinized during a long petitioning process, is extremely concerning.   It will result in harming families and employers in the U.S. who will be deprived of their family members and employees.   For example, in FY 2018, 7,345 Nigerians were issued immigrant visas to join their U.S. citizen and permanent resident immediate family members here.   Another 495 immigrant visas were issued to Nigerians approved to immigrate based on employment.

The Proclamation rationalizes its focus on immigrants by stating they are harder to remove from the U.S. than non-immigrants, but that is inaccurate.  Nonimmigrants can apply for asylum and other forms of relief from removal, just as immigrants can.  And, for example, in FY 2018, while 7922 Nigerians obtained immigrant visas to enter the U.S., 221,819 nonimmigrant Nigerians  entered the U.S.   Given the ban’s stated security rationale, targeting only immigrants makes little sense, and prompts questions about the true motivation behind the ban.

The targeted countries, and critics within the U.S., have begun to push back noting not only the harm to families but also the economic damage that may flow both ways.

The new ban does not apply to individuals from the above countries who already were issued visas before the February 21, 2020 effective date, nor to those who are returning permanent residents or who now have U.S. citizenship and are returning from travels abroad using their U.S. passports, or who have dual citizenship and are traveling with their passports from a non-banned country.  Nor does it apply to refugees and those already granted asylum.

The six new countries join seven others who have been subject to the travel ban since December 4, 2017, including Iran (all immigrants and nonimmigrants banned, except for F and M students and J exchange visitors who are subject to extra scrutiny),  Libya (all immigrants and nonimmigrant visitors for business or pleasure banned), North Korea (all immigrants and non-immigrants banned), Somalia (all immigrants banned, and non-immigrants subject to extra scrutiny), Syria (all immigrants and non-immigrants banned), Venezuela (certain government official visitors and their families banned), and Yemen (all immigrants and nonimmigrant visitors for business or pleasure banned).