NFIB: Not Enough Workers for Available Jobs

The National Federation of Independent Business issued a report  on May 7, 2021 noting that April was the third straight month of record unfilled job openings in small businesses.

A “record 44% of all small business owners report having job openings they could not fill, 22 points higher than the 48-year historical average, and two points higher than the 42% figure from March.”

The report also states:

  • Eight percent of owners cited labor costs as their top business problem and 24% said that labor quality was their top business problem, the top overall concern.
  • Firms increased employment by 0.31 workers per firm on average over the past few months. Thirty-seven percent have openings for skilled workers and 20% have openings for unskilled labor.
  • Forty-four percent of the job openings in construction are for skilled workers, up four points from last month. Fifty-eight percent of construction firms reported few or no qualified applicants.

The report is yet another argument for Congress to reform and update the nation’s immigration laws so that the U.S. can remain a competitive economy and have vibrant communities.

U.S. Birthrates Decline, Again

In 2020, CDC data show that U.S. birthrates declined by 4%, to the lowest rate since 1979.   The steepest decline was 7% in December, the first month that babies would have been born after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S.

The fertility rate also dropped 4% in 2020 to the lowest rate ever, and at 1,637.5 births per 1000 women, is far below the 2.1% fertility rate needed to maintain population “replacement levels.”

While that December 2020 birthrate drop may be a case of correlation, not causation, the lower number of births conforms with predictions by Brookings that U.S. births might fall by 300,000 in a year due to the  pandemic.

Coupled with the 2020 decennial Census data showing the second-slowest U.S. population growth rate in a decade since the Census began in 1790, it’s clear that if the U.S. is to have a robust workforce to meet the country’s economic needs as more Baby Boomers retire, the U.S. urgently needs to grow its immigrant population.

Congress must act this year to update the nation’s immigration laws to open to tap and allow immigrants already here to legalize, and to speed up and expand immediate yfamily and employment based immigration.

Administration Will Increase Refugee Admissions Cap for FY 2021

After flip-flopping in April, the Biden administration announced on May 3, 2021 that it will carry out its earlier promise, and raise the refugee resettlement cap for FY 2021 to 62,500 refugees.

The Trump administration had set the cap on refugee admissions to the U.S. for FY 2021 at 15,000, the lowest cap since the enactment of the Refugee Act of 1980.

President Biden stated repeatedly while campaigning that he would raise the refugee resettlement cap to 125,000 per year, the highest level since the Clinton administration.  Soon after his inauguration, the President said that he would raise the cap for the remainder of the current fiscal year to 62,500 from President Trump’s 15,000.

After delays and some back and forth, Biden appears ready to make good on his promise of resettling 62,500 refugees before September 30, 2021.

This will be welcome news to the refugees who have been extensively vetted and were just waiting for the final nod to travel to the U.S., and also for the communities that will welcome them.

This is also good news for Maine, which received no refugees at all during the first 6 months of the fiscal year .   For decades, refugees have been a consistent source of in-migration to Maine, but refugee resettlement in the state dwindled to a trickle during the prior administration, even before the pandemic.  The Biden administration’s new number for the rest of FY 2021, coupled with the promised 125,000 refugees in future fiscal years, bodes well for an influx of refugees to Maine to help strengthen our communities and workforce.

Biden Calls on Congress to Act on Immigration Reform

In his speech to a joint session of Congress on April 28, 2019,  President Biden called on Congress to act on immigration reform.   While he urged Congress to support the broad U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, he acknowledged that reaching agreement on enacting a comprehensive reform bill may be a heavy lift.

He insisted that Congress must move forward regardless, on immigration issues where there is agreement.   Biden highlighted the  strong bipartisan public support for providing a path to permanent residency for Dreamers and DACA holders, and urged Congress to move ahead with passing the Dream Act.  He also stressed the need to pass the Farm Workforce Modernization Act to legalize undocumented farmworkers who are essential to the nation’s food supply chain, and  the SECURE Act to provide residency to immigrants who work and are now rooted in our communities after having had Temporary Protected Status for more than twenty years.

Between them, these bills would offer a path to permanent  residence  to between 4 to 5 million immigrants who are already part of our workforce and economy.

The President’s speech also spotlighted the jobs that the administration’s infrastructure  and climate change plans would create.   But pre-pandemic, there were millions more open jobs than there were job seekers.  Unemployment rates are already decreasing, and getting closer to pre-pandemic levels, and immigrants will be critical to the nation’s economic recovery and any future growth.

Congress must act on immigration reform this year both from a humane, and an economic perspective.  Read more about the President’s remarks in this article from The Hill.

Business and Economic Leaders from All 50 States Call on Senate to Pass Dream Act

A federal judge in Texas with a history of issuing decisions hostile to immigration could issue a decision within days or weeks on the legality of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.   If, as widely expected, he strikes DACA down, over 600,000 young adult Dreamers who came to the U.S. as children would be left without legal status. Their lives will be in legal limbo, harming them, their families, their employers and their communities.

Their futures cannot be left up to the courts.   Only Congress can give a path to permanent residency to Dreamers and DACA holders who arrived in the U.S. as children.

The House of Representatives has already passed a bill to do just that.  Now, the ball is in the Senate’s Court.

MeBIC partner, the American Business Immigration Coalition (ABIC), and the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration has drafted a sign-on letter collecting signatures  from business, higher education, and other civic and faith leaders from all 50 states calling on Senate leadership to move ahead on the bipartisan Dream Act of 2021

If the federal court strikes down DACA, the letter will be sent to Senators Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer immediately.

Maine’s economic leaders can sign the letter to show that immigration reform is critically needed for Maine,  not just for the nation, by joining businesses and higher education institutions nationwide to send a strong message that the time to pass the Dream Act is now. Dreamers and DACA holders need to finally know that they can live permanently in the U.S.   Passing the Dream Act is vital for them, for our communities, for our economy, and for our nation’s future.

As the letter explains:

“Dreamers are pillars of our nation’s economy and communities – 93 percent of them are employed, they pay close to $10 billion in taxes, and they carry nearly $20 billion in spending power. Nearly 40,000 Dreamers have started businesses and created new jobs for American workers, growing our entrepreneurial spirit. Dreamers are on the frontlines of the pandemic response. Almost 200,000 are essential workers – first responders, restaurant and grocery store workers, childcare providers and almost 30,000 healthcare workers, including doctors and nurses.”

Maine’s business voices matter in the push for federal immigration reform and passage of the Dream Act.   You can join buisnesses nationwide by signing the letter here.

2020 Decennial Census: Ominous Bellweather for U.S. Economy

The U.S. Census Bureau released its first tranche of data from the 2020 decennial census on April 26, 2021.   From 2010 through 2020, the U.S. population grew by only 7.4%, the second slowest rate of growth (second only to 1930 to 1940, covering the Great Depression) since the census was first conducted in 1790.

Maine’s population grew by only 2.6% in the past decade, lower than the national rate, as well as below the 4.2% state growth rate experienced between 2000 and 2010.

A Brookings report parses the initial Census 2020 data, which bears out predictions that Brookings made in a January 2021 analysis.  While the demographic details painted in the January analysis can’t be confirmed until the Census Bureau releases additional information from the 2020 Census, the confirmation of population growth stagnation that Brookings predicted is troubling.  As that analysis noted, “immigration is essential for countering further stagnation.”

And as another recent report notes, without immigration to offset the nation’s declining birth and increasing death rates, our economy will shrink.

The Brookings report on the initial 2020 Census data concludes:

As we digest these and later results of the 2020 census, it is apparent that the United States is becoming a more demographically stagnant nation. How we adapt in the post-pandemic period in terms of childbearing, movement across states, and toward adopting a reasoned immigration policy will determine what kind of country we will become, both demographically and economically, in the decade ahead.

Bipartisan Border Bill Introduced in Congress

On April 22, 2021, Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona), together with Representatives Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) introduced the Bipartisan Border Solutions Act of 2021, proposing improvements in asylum processing procedures for the  asylum seekers arriving at the United States’ southern border.

In addition to proposing increases in asylum officers, immigration judges, and border personnel, the bill would create four regional processing centers at locations on the border that see high influxes of asylum seekers,  as well as providing expanded access to legal information orientations, to pro bono attorneys and legal aid providers, and to materials and information in asylum seekers’ primary languages.  The bill strikes a balance between improving existing due process standards for asylum seekers at the border and more effective processing, as summarized here

The effort to craft a bipartisan approach to improve asylum processing at the southern border has been publicly welcomed by a broad range of organizations including the American Business Immigration Coalition, of which MeBIC is a chapter, as well as  by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Immigration Forum, Texas Association of Business, MeBIC partner New American Economy, Americans for Prosperity, and The LIBRE Initiative.

Congress must pass immigration reform this year, including paths to permanent legal status for Dreamers and those with DACA, and for farmworkers, TPS holders for whom bills have already been approved by the House of Representatives, and for others who are performing essential jobs in our economy and are already members of our communities.   Members of Congress who say such reforms  can’t be done until the southern border is addressed should support this bipartisan border bill that does just that.

USCIS to Make 22,000 Additional H-2B Visas Available for Second Half of FY 2021

On April 20, 2021, USCIS announced that it would add 22,000 visas  to the number of visas available for seasonal non-agricultural worker positions with start dates from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021.   The 33,000 H-2B visa cap for the second half of FY 2021 had already been reached in February, 2020.

The visas will be available only to employers who attest that they will suffer irreparable harm if they don’t get additional employees under the H-2B cap increase.   Employers also will be able to hire H-2B visa holders who are already in the U.S. working for other employers once they file the visa petition for the workers, without needing to wait for the petition’s approval.

The announcement notes that 6,000 of the 22,000 visas will be reserved for citizens of the Northern Triangle countries, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, in order to create a legal channel for individuals from those countries to enter the U.S.    However, if employers do not have connections to labor recruiters in those countries, as a practical matter, this provision may help neither citizens from those countries, nor U.S. employers needing more seasonal workers.

The administration’s 22,000 increase is disappointingly low, given that over 69,000 more H-2B visas could have been authorized under the terms of the  FY 2021 omnibus spending bill passed by Congress in December 2020.

This year, with the new administration, bipartisan immigration reforms should be possible to achieve.   Instead of issuing consecutive one-year cap increases, as Congress has done for at least the past 5 years, Congress should craft a permanent law increasing the number of temporary H-2B visas available to meet the nationwide need for non-agricultural seasonal workers. 


Biden Administration’s Mixed Signals on Refugee Resettlement

After stating soon after assuming office it would reverse the Trump administration’s record low cap on refugee admissions for FY 2021 and admit 62,500 refugees by the end of the fiscal year, on April 16, 2021, the Biden administration issued a new Presidential Determination on refugee admissions restoring a regional approach to refugee resettlement, but maintaining the 15,000 cap.

Within hours, likely in response to tremendous blowback, the administration announced that the 15,000 cap is only the beginning, and that by May 15, 2021, it will make a final determination on an increased cap for refugee admissions.

During the first half of FY 2021, only 2,050 refugees have been admitted to the U.S.    No refugees have been resettled in Maine during this period.  In comparison, during the first half of FY 2016, the last year before the Trump administration began slashing refugee resettlement numbers, nearly 30,000 refugees were resettled.  Maine resettled nearly 650 refugees that year.

With a record 80 million refugees and displaced individuals around the world, the U.S. has both a moral and humanitarian imperative to resume taking a leadership role in refugee resettlement.  Additionally, in Maine, for over 40 years, refugees have been a reliable stream of new Mainers, keeping Maine’s communities vibrant, shoring up our shrinking workforce, and strengthening Maine’s economy.

The White House must follow through on admitting far more than 15,000 refugees this fiscal year, and on its promise to begin admitting 125,000 refugees per year beginning in FY 2022.

Report: Increased Immigration Gives U.S. Competitive Advantage in Global Economy

A recent white paper commissioned by finds that for the United States to retain its position as the world’s largest economy, and to ensure the solvency of programs such as Social Security, the nation must increase its levels of immigration, not reduce or even maintain current levels.

As the report’s executive summary notes,

(t)oday’s low fertility rates and ongoing population aging cast a shadow over America’s future. As a result of these trends, our projections show that grave demographic and economic consequences will follow from more restrictive immigration policies. However, even the maintenance of current levels of immigration would weaken American prospects for strong economic growth and fiscal balance in the medium and long term. It is only through increased immigration that the United States can achieve a sustainable workingage population, economic growth, and a solvent Social Security system.

The report’s findings echo those of many others, including a 2020 report out of George Mason University, and another from the U.S. Census bureau.

A synthesis of the report distills its findings.   Among them,

(i)f the U.S. working-age-to-senior ratio is not maintained, economic growth will slow compared with other nations, draining our social safety nets and sacrificing our current position as the world’s economic leader. In fact, if current U.S. population trends continue, the U.S. economy will fall behind China’s by 2030, and be only three-quarters of China’s economy by 2050.

To offset the ratio of working age adults to those who have or will be retiring from the workforce, the report shows that it will not suffice to simply maintain immigration rates at 2018 levels (immigration levels declined substantially in 2019 and 2020 due to Trump administration policies and the pandemic response).   Instead,

(p)rojections show that U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) could double and grow as large as $47 trillion in today’s dollars in 2050 if immigration levels were doubled to more than 2 million new permanent and temporary immigrants each year. Per capita, this would lead to a 3% increase in average income by 2050 for all Americans compared with keeping immigration at recent levels.

You can read the synthesis of the report here, and find the full report here.

Report Quantifies Declines in Immigration during Trump Administration

A recent report by MeBIC partner New American Economy  quantifies the declines in immigration during the Trump administration.  They resulted from a host of factors, including processing delays, increased bureaucracy and processing barriers, attempted termination of programs such as Temporary Protected Status,  and COVID-19 related immigration office and embassy closures, among others.

But the declines in approvals of naturalization applications, permanent residency applications, H-1B professional temporary worker visas,  and downturns in international students attending U.S. universities preceded the pandemic and were seen in each fiscal year of the Trump administration.

For example, federal court rulings against the Trump administration in challenges against its handling of H-1B visas resulted a dramatic drop in H-1B visa denials in the 4th quarter of FY 2020 compared to the same quarter in FY 2019.

In an era of an aging U.S. population and low birthrates, the U.S. needs to streamline and facilitate increased immigration, not make immigration harder and less attractive to talented foreign nationals.

Read the data here.

Impact of U.S. Immigration Barriers on Global Advancement of Science

A recent journal article discusses Why U.S. Immigration Barriers Matter for the Global Advancement of Science.

As the abstract notes, the report makes four key findings:

First, among Nobel Prize winners and Fields Medalists, migrants to the U.S. play a central role in the global knowledge network— representing 20-33% of the frontier knowledge producers. Second, using novel survey data and hand-curated life-histories of International Math Olympiad (IMO) medalists, we show that migrants to the U.S. are up to six times more productive than migrants to other countries—even after accounting for talent during one’s teenage years. Third, financing costs are a key factor preventing foreign talent from migrating abroad to pursue their dream careers, particularly talent from developing countries. Fourth, certain ‘push’ incentives that reduce immigration barriers – by addressing financing constraints for top foreign talent – could increase the global scientific output of future cohorts by 42% percent.

The report notes that:

A thorough examination of why and how U.S. immigration barriers matter is timely from the perspective of global science. By preventing many of the world’s brightest talent from studying and working where they have been most productive, high immigration barriers are likely to hurt both the talented individuals and the advancement of global knowledge. Even in the absence of immigration policy changes or uncertainty, a reduction in migration to the U.S. might occur due to COVID-19. Additionally, U.S. borders may be less open in the futuredue to potentially rising nationalism. The scale of the threat to the advancement of science remains sizable.

Read the full article here.

Lawsuit Challenges H-4 and L-2 Work Permit Processing Delays

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has filed a class action lawsuit, Edakunni, et al. v. Mayorkas, against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) challenging extreme delays that began during the Trump Administration on processing applications filed by spouses of H-1 and L-1 visa holders for extensions of their spousal H-4 and L-2 visas and work authorization.

Over 91,000 H-4 and L-2 spouses have waited a year or more for their applications to be processed.  Because employers can’t legally employ them once their work permits expire, many have lost their jobs despite applying to extend their status and work permits months before their prior documents’ expiration dates.

These delays have harmed not only the H-2 and L-1 spouses and their families, but also their employers who lose valued employees.

This article describes the problem and the lawsuit.

Maine Compact on Immigration and ABIC Leaders Meet with Senator Collins

On March 22, 2021, Senator Susan Collins met with several signatories of the Maine Compact on Immigration and leaders from the American Business Immigration Coalition (ABIC) to discuss immigration reform.

The group asked Senator Collins to lead efforts  in the Senate to make sure that urgently needed immigration reforms are enacted in 2021.

Senator Collins heard the group’s hope that she will work for  swift passage of the Dream Act  and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, whose House versions were both approved in the House of Representatives the previous week.  These two bills  would open a path to permanent residency for undocumented immigrants and those with DACA who came to the U.S. as children, and for undocumented immigrant farmworkers, respectively, giving over 4 million individuals who are already part of our communities and economy stability, and the ability to reach their full potential.

The group also stressed the critical need for other reforms so that international students, employment-based immigrants, particularly in STEM fields, foreign temporary workers in hospitality and other seasonal sectors, immediate family immigrants, and asylum seekers will have improved paths, processes, and eliminated backlogs,  benefitting employers, families, and Maine (and the nation) as a whole.

Senator Collins noted her support for Dreamers/DACA holders, and her previous work with a bipartisan group of twenty senators (including Senator Angus King) to craft a permanent solution for these immigrants in 2018 after the Trump administration moved to rescind the DACA program.   That proposal failed after the Trump administration indicated its opposition to the bill, though it nonetheless gained 54 votes from Senators on both sides of the aisle.

Senator Collins also stated that the situation on the southern border would make passage of any immigration reform bills in the Senate extremely challenging.

Those at the meeting were:

  • David Barber, Tyson (Barber Foods), Specialist, Business Development, and President of the Maine Business Immigration Coaliation (MeBIC)
  • Nora Venegas, Tyson,  Director, Government Relations Global
  • Greg Dugal, Hospitality Maine, Director of Government Relations
  • Betsy Biemann, CEO, Coastal Enterprises, Inc
  • Deborah Bronk, PhD, President & CEO, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences
  • Clayton Spencer, President, Bates College
  • James Herbert, PhD, President, University of New England
  • John Rowe, Chair Emeritus of Exelon Corporation and Board Member, American Business Immigration Coalition (ABIC)
  • Rebecca Shi, Executive Director, ABIC
  • Beth Stickney, Executive Director, MeBIC (a state chapter of ABIC)

The attendees stressed that Maine can’t wait for Congress to reform the nation’s outdated immigration system, which fails those seeking to work or live in the U.S. and the U.S. economy alike, and their hope that Senator Collins will see them as a resource as immigration bills move through Congress this year.

Administration Re-Designates and Extends Syrian TPS

The Administration has  announced it is redesignating Syria for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and is extending TPS for another 18 months for Syrians who already have it, through September 30, 2022.

TPS is offered to citizens of countries that the U.S. government deems unsafe due to natural disasters or wars and civil conflict, so that those already in the U.S. when the Administration designates their country for TPS can apply to remain and work here legally. It is typically offered in 18 month increments, and has often been extended repeatedly.

The redesignation allows eligible Syrians in the U.S. as of March 19, 2021 to apply for permission to remain and to work legally through September 30, 2022.  Until this redesignation, only Syrians who were already in the U.S. as of March 29, 2012 were eligible for TPS.

Eligible Syrians who already have TPS must reregister to extend their TPS status and work permits between March 19, 2021 through May 18, 2021.  Their work authorization documents that will expire on March 31, 2021 will be automatically extended through September 27, 2021.   Employers can accept the Federal Register notice announcing the TPS extension as proof of the work permit extension.

Syrians newly able to request TPS due to the redesignation must apply between March 19, 2021 through September 15, 2021.

Instructions on how to apply initially or to extend TPS are available here.