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.



Administration Re-designates Haiti for Temporary Protected Status

On May 22, 2021, the administration announced that due to severe instability and growing civil unrest, it has re-designated Haiti for Temporary Protected Status (TPS).   The announcement means that eligible Haitians already in the U.S. as of May 21, 2021 may apply for work permits and for permission to remain in the U.S. for the 18 month TPS period.

Haiti was originally designated for TPS in January 2010, after the nation suffered a devastating earthquake.   Haiti was redesignated for TPS on July 23, 2011, and no Haitians who arrived in the U.S. since that date have been eligible to seek TPS.   The Trump administration moved to terminate Haitian TPS, despite officials from the Departments of State and of Homeland Security affirming that conditions in the country warranted continuation of TPS.  Lawsuits challenging the termination ensued, and currently, Haitian TPS holders’ status is valid through October 4, 2021 as a result of the litigation.

This new re-designation will allow both Haitians currently holding TPS  status and those who arrived in the U.S. after the 2011 redesignation to apply for TPS, once the adminstration publishes the official announcement and the application period in the Federal Register.    This new period of Haitian TPS will last through November 22, 2022.

TPS is offered to citizens of countries that the U.S. 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.

This announcement is good news for those Haitians who already had TPS but had to live with the uncertainty of the ongoing litigation, and for those who arrived after July 2018 but who remained in the U.S. because of the challenging conditions in their country that put their safety, well-being, and ability to support their families at risk.   It is also good news for U.S. employers, given the need for more workers as the nation emerges from the pandemic.

Administration Set to Release 22,000 Additional H-2B Visas for FY 2021

The administration announced that on May 25, 2025, it will begin releasing 22,000 additional H-2B visas for workers filling seasonal non-agricultural positions that have start dates prior to September 30, 2021.

Following up on the initial announcement in April 2021, the administration clarified that

(s)tarting May 25, eligible employers who have already completed a test of the U.S. labor market to verify that there are no U.S. workers who are willing, qualified, and able to perform the seasonal nonagricultural work can file Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, to seek additional H-2B workers. They must submit an attestation with their petition to demonstrate their business is likely to suffer irreparable harm without a supplemental workforce.

More details are available in the Federal Register notice and on USCIS’s H-2B Temporary Increase webpage.

While 22,000 additional H-2B visas is better than nothing, the Biden administration is unfortunately following the Trump administration’s pattern of releasing far fewer than the 69,320 additional H-2B visas that Congress authorized for the remainder of FY 2021.

Given the seasonal non-agricultural labor needs in Maine alone, for hospitality, landscaping, and construction workers, let alone across the entire country, 22,000 more visas are a drop in the bucket.   Congress needs to fix this, by removing the 66,000 annual cap on H-2B visas, in order to meet the real demand for labor to fill seasonal non-agricultural jobs in Maine and in the U.S.

New Poll Shows Continued Support for Legalizing the Undocumented

An NPR/Ipsos poll released on May 20, 2021 showed continued partisan divides on immigration issues, but also strong bipartisan support for legalizing much of the undocumented population living and working here in the U.S.

The poll, conducted in mid-May 2021, found that regardless of party,  respondents believed the situation at the southern border was either a major or a minor problem, but 71% of Republicans identified it as a major problem, compared to 55% of Independents, and 45% of Democrats doing so.

Despite this, virtually identical numbers of those polled believed that all migrants should be given a chance to enter and apply for asylum (64% of Republicans, 63% of Democrats, and 61% of Independents), and strong majorities, regardless of party, were concerned with ensuring that unaccompanied minors who cross the border receive proper care.

In addition, respondents continue to support providing a pathway for undocumented individuals to gain permanent residency.  Republicans supported a path to residency for farmworkers by 61%, for those with temporary protected status (TPS) by 60% and for those who came to the U.S. as children by 54%.  Democrats favored legalizing farmworkers by 85%, those with TPS by 83%, and those who arrived as children by 83%.  Independents supported a path to legal status for those three categories by 71%, 68%, and 63% respectively.

With undocumented immigrants already part of our communities and our workforce, and with low population growth, declining birthrates, and an aging population that depends on younger workers to help fund Social Security for retirees, the bipartisan support for legalizing Dreamers/DACA holders, farmworkers, and those with TPS underscores that Congress should prioritize getting immigration reform passed in 2021.

DHS Restores Prior H-1B Specialty Occupation Regulation

In October 2020, the Trump administration issued an interim rule to take effect on December 7, 2020, with no prior notice and comment opportunity, that substantially changed longstanding definitions of speciality occupation and qualifying job placements.  The intention was to substantially undermine the H-1B professional level visa program.

A federal court enjoined the interim rule.   On May 19, 2021, the Department of Homeland Security issued a final regulation revoking the prior administration’s interim regulation, in compliance with the federal court order.

This action restores some certainty for employers who are seeking the best talent they can find, even if they happen to be citizens of other countries who need to obtain H-1B visas to be legally employed.

USCIS Takes Steps to Reduce Certain Visa Processing Backlogs

Effective May 17, 2021, USCIS will suspend the taking of biometrics for those applying to extend or change to H-4 or L-2 visas as spouses of H-1B specialized knowledge and L-1 multinational company employees, as well as for those applying for extensions of, or change to the E-1, 2, or 3 visa categories.

These categories of applicants historically have not had to appear in person to have their fingerprints and other biometrics taken.  The biometrics requirement was initiated by the Trump administration in early 2019.  Since then, processing backlogs in these categories have been punishing, resulting in lawsuits against the Trump administration that are still ongoing, filed on behalf of H-4 and L-2 visa holders whose employment authorization was dependent upon approval of the underlying visa change or extension request.   Thousands of H-4 and L-2 spouses nationwide have  lost their jobs, and their ability to access or maintain ancillary benefits such as driver’s licenses, as a result of  the processing delays.

The temporary suspension of biometrics will apply to applications pending as of May 17, 2021 where a biometrics appointment has yet to be made, and to new applications filed on or after that date, and will remain in effect through May 17, 2023.

A Roadmap for Future U.S. Immigration Policy

The Migration Policy Institute published a new report proposing how to revamp the nation’s immigration system to better meet our current, and future, demographic and economic needs.

The report starts with a reminder that the current immigration framework was last substantially updated more than 30 years ago.   At that time, Congress imposed strict, unrealistically low limits on employment based non-immigrants (the 85,000 yearly cap on bachelors and masters degree or higher specialized knowledge H-1B visas, and the 66,000 annual cap on H-2B seasonal agricultural worker visas), and per-country immigration limits that have resulted in decades long waits for immediate families to be reunified and for skilled talent to be able to get their permanent residency to work for the employers who petitioned successfully for them.    Economically speaking, 1990 was light years away from the current internet and knowledge based global economy that we take for granted today.  The U.S.’s immigration system  is completely out of step with the nation’s current demographic and economic realities.

The report walks through the current challenges facing the nation, and proposes thoughtful solutions for what a new immigration framework could look like.

You can read the full report here.

Harmful Trump-Era Presidential Proclamation Revoked

The Biden Administration has issued a Presidential Proclamation revoking an October 2019 Presidential Proclamation that barred immigration from abroad by individuals who could not show that they already had health insurance in the U.S. or would be able to obtain it within thirty days of arrival.  Health insurance via the Affordable Care Act was not allowed to satisfy the requirement.

As explained in this prior post, since most employment-based immigrants work in professional positions with employer-provided health benefits, the proclamation was aimed at slashing immigration by immediate family members of U.S. citizens and those immigrating through the Diversity Visa program.   Estimates were that the rule would slash immigration by as much as 65 percent, ignoring the fact that new immigrants become workers, taxpayers and contributing members of their communities.

The full effect of the rule was never felt, first because implementation of the Trump era proclamation was temporarily blocked by a federal court order.  Then, due to COVID-19, the Trump Administration blocked virtually all immigration from abroad ostensibly to prevent job competition.  That bar to immigration was not lifted until after the Biden administration assumed power.

Revocation of this health insurance requirement is welcome news for an aging nation with shrinking  birth rates, that  must have immigration if it is to maintain vibrant communities and a workforce numerous enough to meet the needs of U.S. employers.