New Executive Order Will Dramatically Cut Legal Immigration

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.


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.

More Immigrants in Maine Can Now Apply for Commercial Driver’s Licenses

A wide array of noncitizens in Maine can now apply for a Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) or a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).

A coalition including MeBIC, ACLU-Maine, Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project,  Maine Equal Justice, Portland Adult Education, and SIGCO advocated with Maine’s  Secretary of State and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) that their interpretation of federal CDL regulations was too narrow.  Maine had been restricting CLPs and CDLs to only U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

The Secretary of State’s office ultimately agreed.  Computer system updates made to accommodate the updated policy were completed by the BMV in September, 2019.  The change does not apply to hazardous material CDLs.

Maine has been facing a critical shortage of individuals with CDLs, affecting the ability of public transit systems, school districts, construction firms, trucking companies, and snow plow contractors, to name only a few, to get the drivers they need.   As a result of this change, now refugees, asylees, those with pending asylum applications, and anyone with an unexpired work permit, including individuals with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA),  among other noncitizens, can apply to get a CLP, or if they have the appropriate driving qualifications, a CDL.  They will also have to show that they reside in Maine.

With Maine’s unemployment rate below 3% as of August 2019, the ability of more of Maine’s immigrants to get CDLs and to choose a driving career will benefit employers and immigrants alike.


Remaking U.S. Immigration Policy – Think Tanks Weigh in

The turmoil in our immigration system stems from the vast mismatch between our outdated immigration laws and the nation’s current demographic, economic, and social landscapes.  Comprehensive immigration reform bills were on the table in 2006, 2007, and 2013 in Congress, but failed to pass.

Much of the media focus is on the administration’s actions directed at asylum seekers and those crossing the southern border.  However, less noticed is that through processing delays, soaring denial rates, increasingly restrictive procedures  and new regulations, the administration is taking the flawed immigration system and making it even worse.  The result is that just when birth rates are at record lows, when more workers are aging out of the labor force, and when job openings exceed unemployed individuals by more than 1.4  million (as of July 2019),  the administration is shutting the siphon on all forms of legal immigration (which includes asylum seekers).  The administration’s actions are exacerbating our growing demographic challenges, threatening our economy’s growth, and undermining our nation’s immigrant tradition and values.

Undoing the administration’s actions is critical, and passing laws such as  H.R. 6, The American Dream and Promise Act of 2019, which will prevent about 1.1 million DACA and Temporary Protected Status holders, most of whom are working, from being forced out of our country, and our economy, is one step towards improving our immigration laws.  But our laws need a complete, modernizing overhaul.

Several think tanks have weighed in recently on this.  The Migration Policy Institute has framed the terms of its analysis as it begins a deep dive into what direction future reforms should take.   MPI notes the high stakes if reforms are not made:

In the absence of a desperately needed overhaul, this critical policy arena will continue to be subject to wild swings from administration to administration that rely on broad uses of executive authority to accomplish goals that should be articulated by Congress.

The Cato Institute  has also recently laid out a framework that looks not only at reforms that would stem the crisis at the border but present a path to a  broad overhaul.

Both of these analyses help add context to the debate that needs to be had in Congress, once that body finally decides its time to improve our immigration system to match the country’s economic and demographic realities, and are worth a read.


Corporations Step Up to Recognize the Importance of Immigrants in the Workforce

Walmart and Chobani have co-founded the Corporate Roundtable for the New American Workforce, to encourage companies to devise and offer benefits that value their immigrant employees and will strengthen their immigrant workforce and immigrant integration, according to this item in Bloomberg Law.

Joined by corporations such as Ben & Jerry’s, Lyft, Marriott, Tyson Foods, and Uber, these companies are offering English classes, and also immigration legal aid to help with the citizenship application process.  Offering these benefits helps them both to attract and retain workers, in a tight labor market, and also recognizes the value of immigrants in the workforce.

The initiative has multiple goals, as the article notes:

(W)hile the Corporate Roundtable program’s main offerings are free legal aid to help with the naturalization process and English language classes, the initiative is also aimed at combating the view that helping immigrant workers reduces opportunities for the U.S.-born.

In Maine, LD 647, approved by the State Legislature in 2019 but needing to pass the finish line in 2020, would provide funds to help employers launch combined English and job skills classes at their worksites.  MeBIC and many of its coalition partners supported that legislation.  The Corporate Roundtable has drafted a  letter inviting businesses nationwide to commit to supporting similar efforts.  The letter states:

To: American Companies and Business Leaders

Since its foundation, the United States has been a home to immigrants, who come with dreams and in search of greater opportunities. These newcomers embody America’s identity and are important contributors of economic growth and social, civic, and cultural life.

As a collection of global companies and business leaders, we are grateful that 41 million immigrants from all over the world came to the United States to raise their families, seek an education, and contribute to our communities and companies. They represent one in six workers and help America remain economically strong in a globally competitive market.

Our labor force will only continue to grow and diversify.  The foreign born portion of the total U.S. working population increased from 13.1% in 2000 to 17.4% in 2018.[i] Due to the increase, we understand the necessity to support immigrant integration at work and in society. Through this support, we are helping newcomers more quickly contribute and better utilize their skills and talents, which benefits their families, employers, communities, and our economy.

We are pleased that these companies have supported immigrant integration through establishing company practices, offering worksite services, initiating pro-immigrant communications efforts and immigration policy advocacy. Specifically, some companies, like Walmart and NVIDIA, are helping their immigrant employees and family members with the naturalization process, while other companies, like Lyft and Chobani, have offered English classes to their workers.

We encourage all companies to support their diverse workforce by offering immigrant integration services at their workplaces, aiming to continue to create a welcoming environment for all newcomers and building communities where all can thrive.

Thank you.

Maine businesses can find other signatories and sign on to the letter here.  Businesses that want to help get LD 647 enacted in 2020 are encouraged to contact MeBIC.


Proposed Rule Will Further Delay Asylum Seekers’ Work Permits

The Administration has published a proposed rule to delay issuance of asylum seekers’ initial work permits.

By law, asylum seekers can’t apply for their first work permits sooner than 150 days after filing for asylum, but current longstanding regulations then require USCIS to make a decision on those applications within 30 days.  Because USCIS routinely failed to act that quickly, in 2018, a federal court ordered them to begin doing so.  The proposed rule would effectively nullify that court order and let USCIS to revert to longer processing times for issuing asylum seekers’ initial work permits.

The proposed rule defies economic reality.  In August 2019, the  national unemployment rate held steady at 3.7%.   In Maine, the unemployment rate in July 2019 was 3%, with 12 counties having rates below 3% (including Sagadahoc and Cumberland Counties at 1.7% and 1.9% respectively).  All of Maine’s counties had unemployment rates under 4%, compared to a year ago when five Maine counties had rates over 4%.  Nationally and in Maine, employers are clamoring for workers, and asylum seekers can help fill that need.

The proposed rule indicates that the Administration is well aware of this.   The proposed rule’s preamble states:

A portion of the impacts of this rule would also be borne by companies that would have hired the asylum applicants had they been in the labor market earlier but were unable to find available workers. These companies would incur a cost, as they would be losing the productivity and potential profits the asylum applicant would have provided had the asylum applicant been in the labor force earlier.

Moreover, the proposed rule acknowledges the economic cost to the asylum seekers themselves, in lost income, which in turn is income not spent in the the economy.    The  administration anticipates that work permit processing times will revert to the delays that preceded the 2018 court order, and estimates that

(t)he lost compensation to asylum applicants could range from $255.88 million to $774.76 million annually depending on the wages the asylum applicant would have earned.

The proposed rule recognizes that “USCIS could hire more officers” in order to more quickly process these work permit applications, but the Administration is choosing not to do so.  In addition, the preamble notes that the White House is contemplating eliminating in the future the ability for asylum seekers to get a work permit at all while their cases are pending, if they didn’t enter the U.S. through a border inspection post (such as the vast majority of asylum seekers who arrive via the southern border, including the asylum seekers who arrived in Portland this summer).

Asylum seekers are allowed under federal and international law to seek safety in the U.S. regardless of how they enter the country.  Making it more difficult for them to get work authorization while their cases are in process not only forces them to rely on charity and robs them of dignity, but deprives our economy of their ability to contribute as workers and consumers.   We should be helping asylum seekers get their work permits more quickly, rather than less, as proposed legislation, introduced by Maine’s Rep. Chellie Pingree, would do.

Public comment on this proposed rule will be accepted through November 8, 2019.  Please contact MeBIC if your business would like assistance submitting a comment in opposition to this change.



Two Years on – DACA Holders Still Waiting for Permanent Solution

Two years ago today, on September 5, 2017, the administration announced that it was rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protected from removal and provided work permits to immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children before July 2012.  That decision placed over 700,000 immigrant young adults in legal limbo, unsure if they’ll be forced to leave the U.S, which for many is the only country they truly know.

Since then, multiple federal courts found the administration’s rationale for ending the program unlawful, and ordered the government to continue to renew DACA status.  No new applications have been accepted since September 5, 2017, however.

The Supreme Court will take up the administration’s appeal from those decisions in its upcoming term beginning in October 2019.  In the meantime, DACA holders, who, despite their lack of permanent legal status, are students, employees, entrepreneurs, employers, community members, homeowners , consumers, volunteers and part of our society in every respect, do not know what their futures will hold.  Should they have to leave, our communities, and our economy will suffer.

The American Dream and Promise Act of 2019, which would provide a path to permanent residency for DACA holders and those who have had Temporary Protected Status for years and decades, has passed in the House of Representatives.  On this second anniversary of DACA’s rescission, it is high time for the Senate to bring it to a vote and approve it as well.


Administration Increases Scrutiny of Social Media – Proposed Rule

On September 4, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security published a proposed rule to add questions about individuals’ social media accounts and identifiers to a wide variety of immigration application forms, including for citizenship, refugee or asylee status,  and for permanent residency, as well as on the landing card for those arriving in the U.S. on temporary visas such as visitors and foreign students.

As we’ve written previously, this will lead to an increase in denials of these applications, and of entry to the U.S.    Denials could occur simply because a person omits a social media account that s/he set up but never or rarely used and later forgot about, or because someone who was friended posts content that shows up on a non-citizen’s feed that the government finds objectionable.

A  recent example of this was the denial of entry in August to an incoming Harvard University freshman from Lebanon, after U.S. border officials at the arrival airport reportedly disapproved of other people’s posts that showed up on the student’s social media feed, even though he himself had not written anything that they found questionable.   After media scrutiny and advocacy efforts, that decision was ultimately reversed and he was able to enter to begin his studies, but not every affected individual will attract the same level of attention to trigger a governmental about-face.

Comments on the proposed rule will be accepted through November 4, 2019.  Contact MeBIC if you’d like assistance submitting comments opposing this rule.


ICYMI: the Architect of the Administration’s Immigration Policies

From separating children from their parents at the United States’ southern border, to making it increasingly difficult for those fleeing harm to seek asylum, to virtually halting refugee resettlement, to supporting legislative initiatives gutting immediate family immigration, to implementing new immigration regulations that would substantially reduce legal immigration by those not already well-educated and well-off, there is one architect leading the construction of the Trump Administration’s immigration policies:  Stephen Miller.

The New York Times  and the Washington Post both recently published in-depth profiles of Stephen Miller.  In case you missed them, you can find the Time‘s article here, and the Post‘s profile here.