Report: The High Economic Cost of Unused Immigrant Visas

For decades, U.S. immigration laws have capped the number immigrant (permanent resident) visas that can be issued each fiscal year.  Due to processing delays and other factors, many of even these limited numbers of immigrant visas go unused – and are not rolled over or “recaptured” to increase the number of immigrants in the next fiscal year.  So, immigrant visa backlogs grow, keeping immediate families of U.S. citizens and permanent residents apart, and causing untenable wait lists that make it harder for U.S. employers to compete for international talent.   Multiple bills have been proposed in Congress to allow for unused visas to be recaptured.

The Niskanan Center outlines the problem in a recent report, while also detailing the positive economic impact of recapturing unused visas.

Quoting from the report, the key takeaways are:

• The waiting list for green cards has grown well into the millions and is expected to continue growing, leading to unacceptable wait times for applicants and imposing severe costs on the U.S. economy.

• Accumulated administrative errors and the disruption of COVID-19 have exacerbated the shortage of green cards by leaving unused hundreds of thousands of green card slots that Congress has authorized.

• Recapturing unused green cards and preventing green cards from going unused in the future would help restore the immigrant population in the United States to what Congress intended while generating many billions of dollars of economic activity and billions in net revenue streams. Congress has recaptured unused green cards twice with bipartisan support, but many more green cards remain available for recapture.

• The executive branch could act alone to recapture over 231,000 unused employment-based green cards, adding $216 billion to GDP over 10 years.

• If Congress amended the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century (AC21) Act, which already recaptured some 180,000 unused employment-based green cards, over 339,000 additional unused green cards could be recaptured, which would add $104 billion to GDP over 10 years.

• If the recapture provisions in the U.S. Citizenship Act (USCA) were signed into law, over 940,000 unused employment-based and family preference green cards would be recaptured, adding $815 billion to GDP over 10 years.

Read the full report here.

Maine Business Leaders Call on the Senate to Act Now on Immigration Reforms

Facing an aging population and a labor shortage exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, on Friday, June 18, 2021, Maine business, faith, education, civic and immigrant leaders held a virtual forum making the case to Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Angus King (I-ME) for urgently needed bipartisan immigration solutions to expand our workforce, bring certainty to families and employers, and help Maine’s communities and economy grow.

Hosted by MeBIC and its partnerthe American Business Immigration Coalition (ABIC), Growing Maine – Bipartisan Immigration Solutions 2021 was a clear call to Maine’s Senators to lead the charge for bipartisan Senate action this summer on three common-sense immigration solutions whose counterparts have already passed in the House of Representatives: the Dream Act, the companion bill to the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, and the SECURE Act.  Each proposal recognizes immigrants’ vital and growing contributions to Maine’s economy and communities and is critical to addressing our state’s demographic challenges.  For a link to the recording click here.

The broad array of speakers included:

    • Sen. Susan Collins, by video
    • Sen. Angus King, statement read by staff
    • Rep. Chellie Pingree, by video
    • Rep. Jared Golden, statement read by staff
    • David Barber, Business Development Specialist, Tyson; Former CEO, Barber Foods
    • Julie-Marie Bickford, Executive Director, Maine Dairy Industry Association
    • Paul Bolin, SVP, Chief Human Resource Officer, Northern Light Health
    • Xavier Botana, Superintendent, Portland Public Schools
    • Mufalo Chitham, Executive Director, Maine Immigrants Rights Coalition
    • Ben Conniff, Chief Innovation Officer & Co-Founder, Luke’s Lobster
    • Dana Connors, President, Maine State Chamber of Commerce
    • Bishop Robert Deeley, Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine
    • Greg Dugal, Director of Government Affairs, Hospitality Maine
    • Kerem Durdag, President & CEO, GWI
    • Lori Dwyer, JD, President & CEO, Penobscot Community Health Care
    • Heather Johnson, Commissioner, Maine Department of Economic & Community Development
    • Roger Katz, Attorney; former State Senator
    • Brian Langley, Chef/Owner Union River Lobster Pot; former State Senator
    • Matt Marks, CEO, AGC Maine
    • Fortunat Mueller, PE, President & Co-Founder, ReVision Energy
    • Angela Okafor, Bangor City Councilor; Owner, Tropical Tastes and Styles International Market; Attorney
    • Curtis Picard, CAE, President & CEO, Retail Association of Maine
    • Jake Pierson, MCN, Owner, Pierson Nurseries
    • Lee Umphrey, President & CEO, Eastern Maine Development Corporation
    • Eric Venturini, Executive Director, Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine

The House has acted and the ball is now in the Senate’s court.   The speakers above eloquently laid out why Maine needs immigrants, and  immigration reform.  It’s time for the Senate to act.

Hear about how immigrants are essential for strong Maine communities and to have a growing economy in the recording of the event here.

New Study Shows Economic Boost of Legalizing Undocumented Immigrants

Economists Giovanni Peri and Reem Zaior from University of California-Davis’s Global Migration Center have published a study that looks at the economic impact of legalizing the nation’s undocumented immigrants.

The study poses various scenarios  ranging from legalizing the entire estimated 10.4 million undocumented population, to legalizing portions of that population includied in various bills currently pending in Congress.  Under every scenario, legalization would produce significant economic benefits for the U.S. as a whole, generating new tax revenues, increased productivity and wages, and creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act, would provide a path to permanent residency for those who came to the U.S. as children, as well as those who have Temporary Protected Status  (TPS) due to natural disasters or civil conflict in their home countries.   The study indicates that enacting H.R. 6 – whose Senate counterpart bills are the bipartisan Durbin Graham Dream Act and the SECURE Act – would

increase U.S. GDP by a cumulative total of $799 billion over 10 years and create 285,400 new jobs.

      • Five years after implementation, those eligible would experience annual wages that are $4,300 higher.

      • Ten years after implementation, those annual wages would be $16,800 higher, and all other American workers would see their annual wages increase by $400.

Were Congress to pass legislation giving a path to permanent residency for all undocumented individuals, the economists project that action would

boost U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by a cumulative total of $1.7 trillion over 10 years and create 438,800 new jobs.

The ball is in the Senate’s court to act on the Dream Act, the SECURE Act, and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, three common sense bills that collectively would legalize approximately 4 million undocumented individuals.   The study shows that not only would passage of the bills benefit these individuals, but also our communities and nation as a whole.

You can read study here.


Biden Administration Signals Immigration Regulation Changes

The Biden administration released its regulatory agenda on June 11, 2021 which includes upcoming reforms to several immigration regulations.

The agenda signals reforms to regulations affecting asylum processing, including rescission of harsh provisions, many of which have been blocked by federal courts, imposed by the Trump administration; creating increased availability of “premium processing” fees for more types of applications in order to provide needed funding to USCIS and faster processing; and strengthening the viability of the DACA program for those who arrived in the U.S. as children, among many others.

The regulatory agenda appears to be taking definitive steps to roll back many of the regulations issued by the prior administration that were designed to reduce immigration to the U.S. by all categories of immigrants, whether through humanitarian channels, immediate family, or employment.

Full details won’t be available until the rules themselves are eventually published in the Federal Register.

Immigration Needed to Meet Demand for Highly Skilled Workforce

The New American Economy issued a recent report finding that despite the economic effects of the pandemic, the U.S. doesn’t have enough workers to fill high skilled positions.

In computer-related and math fields, the unemployment rate in 2019 was at 2.3%, and rose only slightly during 2020, to 3%.  But in 2021, that rate had dropped back down to 1.9%, indicating job growth in fields requiring these skills as the U.S. emerges from COVID-19.

Unemployment rates for health care professionals was only 2% by December 2020 and the pandemic expanded the need for healthcare workers, a trend expected to continue, given both the pandemic and the nation’s aging population.

The report concludes that

despite the economic disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, high-skilled and specialized workers remain in high demand across the U.S. …..However, America’s increasingly protectionist immigration system dissuades employers from seeking much-needed labor, even when it cannot source talent domestically. Instead of allowing for easier recruitment and attraction of workers in fields that have chronic labor shortages, such as in technology and healthcare, or in geographic areas where demand for labor outstrips supply, U.S. immigration policy remains largely a one-size-fits-all system. Given that high-skilled workers tend to work in high-tech industries, which tend to be more productive and faster growing, not allowing employers to fill critical gaps in their workforces effectively keeps them from fulfilling their full economic potential for the rest of the U.S. economy. This suggests that more nuanced and responsive policy around employment-based immigration could be one way to help the U.S. more quickly and more robustly bounce back from the Covid-19 and future economic disruptions and crises.

You can find the full report here.

Supreme Court Ruling Heightens Need for SECURE Act’s Passage

On June 7, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that being granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) does not equate with having been “admitted” to the U.S. for purposes of being able to get residency from within the U.S.

The ruling affects TPS holders who originally entered the U.S. without being inspected at a border post, who become eligible to apply for permanent residency, typically as the parent of an over 21 year old U.S. citizen child, or as the spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

With few exceptions, to be able to “adjust status” to permanent resident in the U.S., one must have been “inspected and admitted.”  A person ineligible for “adjustment” must instead have an immigrant visa interview at the U.S. consulate, ordinarily in their home country.  For a person who has lived in the U.S. for more than a year without legal status prior to getting TPS, departing the country to go to the consular interview will trigger a 10 year bar to returning to the U.S.  It’s possible to apply for a waiver of that 10 year bar, but it’s extremely complicated and difficult to get.  If that same person could “adjust status,” the 10 year bar wouldn’t be triggered and the process of being approved for residency would be relatively smooth and uncomplicated, without the prospect of prolonged family separation and emotional and economic hardship.

The Supreme Court’s ruling reversed a lower court’s finding that the language of the TPS statute allowed a person granted TPS to be treated as having been admitted to the U.S. and eligible to “adjust status” even if the person originally entered the U.S. without inspection.

The U.S. has nearly 320,000 individuals with TPS, and that number will grow exponentially with the recent decisions expanding TPS eligibility to individuals from Burma (Myanmar), Haiti and Venezuela.  Over 250,000 of them are Hondurans and Salvadorans who have been here for more than 20 years, who are parents to U.S. citizen children who may be approaching the age of 21 when they can legally begin the family-based immigration process for their TPS parents.  The recent Supreme Court decision means that most of these TPS parents will have to consular process and face the prospect of the 10 year bar to returning.

TPS holders now have deep roots in this country, with many having lived in the U.S. longer than they lived in their home countries.  They have families and employers who depend upon them.  Having TPS holders face the 10 year bar in order to finally gain permanent residency benefits no one, except perhaps the immigration lawyers they’ll need to hire in hopes of preparing a successful waiver application.

The SECURE Act (S. 306) would allow the vast majority of TPS holders to apply for permanent residency if they have lived here continuously for at least three years and pass all criminal history and national security checks (which they have had to pass each time they register for TPS).  Given the deep roots that hundreds of thousands of them have in this country and their importance to the U.S. workforce, providing them with an independent path to residency without the need to depart the U.S. is both humane, and the economically smart move.


FY 2021 Additional H-2B Visas Nearly Exhausted in Just 5 Days

USCIS announced on June 3, 2021 that of the 22,000 additional H-2B visas available for seasonal non-agricultural workers filling jobs starting before September 30, 2021, the 16,000 visas reserved for returning H-2B visa holders have already been exhausted.

USCIS began accepting new employer petitions on May 25, 2021, and in only five business days, more returning workers H-2B visas  had been requested than the 16,000 cap allowed.  Petitions received  for returning H-2B workers after June 1, 2021 will be returned by USCIS to the petitioning employers.

An additional 6,000 H-2B  visas are reserved for workers who would be coming from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.   Employers who hope to get H-2B workers from these countries must file their petitions by July 8, 2021.

More information about the additional FY 2021 H-2B visas can be found here.

U.S. Chamber Highlights Immigration Reform as Workforce Shortage Solution

On June 1, 2021, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce  announced its America Works Initiative to address the nation’s crisis-level workforce shortages that will only get worse with inaction.  Its four point America Works Agenda includes expanding the workforce through immigration reform.

The U.S. Chamber urges concrete steps to advance its immigration reform agenda, including supporting passage of the Dream Act, the SECURE Act, and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, currently needing  Senate action.   Their counterpart versions have already passed in the House of Representatives, and need 60 votes for Senate passage.    Between them, these bills will legalize about 4 million immigrants who are already contributing members of our communities and workforce, including many who have worked in essential jobs throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of its America Works Initiative, the U.S. Chamber also issued its Quantifying the Nation’s Workforce Crisis report that analyzed over 20 years of data  and conducted surveys, looking for hiring and growth trends and identifying workforce challenges and the hardest hit industries, to better inform policy discussions to find solutions.

Unsurprisingly, the data reveals a sharp drop in the last decade, well before the pandemic, in the ratio of available workers for every job, from manual labor  to those entailing high levels of education.  This was borne out in the surveys, where nearly 90% of employers said they were having difficulty, or finding it very difficult, to find workers.   Over 90% of respondents said labor force issues were the number one challenge crimping growth.

The America Works Initiative‘s immigration policy agenda also addresses needed reforms for employment based immigrant and nonimmigrant visas, in addition to urging passage  of the Dream, Secure, and Farm Workforce Modernization Acts.

But having already been passed in the House, the latter three bills present the most immediate chance for action, and represent an urgently needed first step to allow millions of immigrants to gain a path to permanent status that will give them security and the ability to unleash their full potential in the U.S.

Maine’s Senators’ support and leadership will be crucial to these bills’ prospects for passage, as well as for the success of badly needed broader immigration reforms.

Learn more about the Iniative here.