What May Change in Immigration Policy under a New President

This Forbes commentary notes that changes made by the Trump administration to the U.S. immigration system have reduced immigration to the U.S. by nearly half since 2017.  This is the intended result of measures drastically lowering the number of skills-based and immediate family immigrants getting permanent residency, as well as dramatically curtailing acceptance of refugees and asylum seekers, and resulting in fewer international higher education students and nonimmigrant foreign workers.   The Trump administration’s restrictive overhaul of the U.S. immigration system was accomplished through executive actions and procedural and regulatory changes, completely bypassing Congress, the body charged with crafting U.S. immigration laws.

The Forbes article includes recommendations that the incoming administration could make to improve the nation’s immigration laws, which badly needed reform prior to the Trump administration, and urgently needs a complete rebalancing now.

Many of the suggestions appear to be ones that a Biden administration hopes to achieve.   Pasted below are proposed changes that President-elect Biden has posted on the Biden-Harris website to restore a values and economic based approach to the U.S. immigration system.

“Joe Biden will work with Congress to pass legislation that:

  • Creates a roadmap to citizenship for the nearly 11 million people who have been living in and strengthening our country for years. These are our mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. They are our neighbors, co-workers, and members of our congregations and Little League teams. They contribute in countless ways to our communities, workforce, and economy. In 2015, the IRS collected $23.6 billion from 4.4 million workers without Social Security numbers–many of whom were undocumented. Biden will aggressively advocate for legislation that creates a clear roadmap to legal status and citizenship for unauthorized immigrants who register, are up-to-date on their taxes, and have passed a background check.
  • Reforms the visa program for temporary workers in select industries. A collection of industries depend on seasonal workers, or workers who only seek to be in the U.S. for a short time. The current system for accommodating these workers is cumbersome, bureaucratic, and inflexible—driving up incentives to circumvent the system by hiring undocumented laborers and allowing the employers who control the visa to pay artificially low wages. Biden will work with Congress to reform the current system of temporary work visas to allow workers in these select industries to switch jobs, while certifying the labor market’s need for foreign workers. Employers should be able to supply data showing a lack of labor availability and the harm that would result if temporary workers were unavailable. This flexibility, coupled with strong safeguards that require employers to pay a fair calculation of the prevailing wage and ensure the right of all workers to join a union and exercise their labor rights, will help meet the needs of domestic employers, sustain higher wages for American workers and foreign workers alike, incentivize workers and employers to operate within legal channels, prevent exploitation of temporary workers, and boost local economies.
  • Reforms the temporary visa system. High skilled temporary visas should not be used to disincentivize recruiting workers already in the U.S. for in-demand occupations. An immigration system that crowds out high-skilled workers in favor of only entry level wages and skills threatens American innovation and competitiveness. Biden will work with Congress to first reform temporary visas to establish a wage-based allocation process and establish enforcement mechanisms to ensure they are aligned with the labor market and not used to undermine wages. Then, Biden will support expanding the number of high-skilled visas and eliminating the limits on employment-based visas by country, which create unacceptably long backlogs.
  • Provides a path to legalization for agricultural workers who have worked for years on U.S. farms and continue to work in agriculture. Securing adequate, seasonal help in the agricultural sector can be inefficient and difficult to navigate, causing people to avoid or exploit the system, even when jobs remain unfilled. Biden supports compromise legislation between farmworkers and the agricultural sector that will provide legal status based on prior agricultural work history, and a faster-track to a green card and ultimately citizenship. Biden also will ensure labor and safety rules, including overtime, humane living conditions, and protection from pesticide and heat exposure, are enforced with respect to these particularly vulnerable working people.
  • Rejects the false choice between employment-based and family-based immigration. Each day, in every state in the country, millions of immigrants granted a visa based on family ties make valuable contributions to our country and economy. Keeping families together and allowing eligible immigrants to join their American relatives on U.S. soil is critically important, but the current system is poorly designed with per-country caps that prevent applications from being approved in a timely fashion. That means approved applicants may wait decades to be reunited with their families. As president, Biden will support family-based immigration by preserving family unification as a foundation of our immigration system; by allowing any approved applicant to receive a temporary non-immigrant visa until the permanent visa is processed; and by supporting legislation that treats the spouse and children of green card holders as the immediate relatives they are, exempting them from caps, and allowing parents to bring their minor children with them at the time they immigrate.
  • Preserves preferences for diversity in the current system. Trump has set his sights on abolishing the Diversity Visa lottery. This is a program that brings up to 50,000 immigrants from underrepresented countries to the U.S. each year. He has disparaged the system as a “horror show” and repeatedly misrepresents how the lottery is administered, while demonizing and insulting with racist overtones those who receive the visas. Diversity preferences are essential to preserving a robust and vibrant immigration system. As president, Biden will reaffirm our core values and preserve the critical role of diversity preferences to ensure immigrants everywhere have the chance to legally become U.S. citizens.
  • Increases the number of visas offered for permanent, work-based immigration based on macroeconomic conditions. Currently, the number of employment-based visas is capped at 140,000 each year, without the ability to be responsive to the state of the labor market or demands from domestic employers. As president, Biden will work with Congress to increase the number of visas awarded for permanent, employment-based immigration—and promote mechanisms to temporarily reduce the number of visas during times of high U.S. unemployment. He will also exempt from any cap recent graduates of PhD programs in STEM fields in the U.S. who are poised to make some of the most important contributions to the world economy. Biden believes that foreign graduates of a U.S. doctoral program should be given a green card with their degree and that losing these highly trained workers to foreign economies is a disservice to our own economic competitiveness.
  • Creates a new visa category to allow cities and counties to petition for higher levels of immigrants to support their growth. The disparity in economic growth between U.S. cities, and between rural communities and urban areas, is one of the great imbalances of today’s economy. Some cities and many rural communities struggle with shrinking populations, an erosion of economic opportunity, and local businesses that face unique challenges. Others simply struggle to attract a productive workforce and innovative entrepreneurs. As president, Biden will support a program to allow any county or municipal executive of a large or midsize county or city to petition for additional immigrant visas to support the region’s economic development strategy, provided employers in those regions certify there are available jobs, and that there are no workers to fill them. Holders of these visas would be required to work and reside in the city or county that petitioned for them, and would be subject to the same certification protections as other employment-based immigrants.
  • Enforces the rules to protect American and foreign workers alike. The U.S. immigration system must guard against economy-wide wage cuts due to exploitation of foreign workers by unscrupulous employers who undercut the system by hiring immigrant workers below the market rate or go outside the immigration system to find workers. Biden will work with Congress to ensure that employers are not taking advantage of immigrant workers and that U.S. citizen workers are not being undercut by employers who don’t play by the rules. Biden will also work to ensure employers have the right tools to certify their workers’ employment status and will restore the focus on abusive employers instead of on the vulnerable workers they are exploiting.
  • Expands protections for undocumented immigrants who report labor violations. When undocumented immigrants are victims of serious crimes and help in the investigation of those crimes, they become eligible for U Visas. The Obama-Biden Administration expanded the U Visa program to certain workplace crimes. As president, Biden will further extend these protections to victims of any workplace violations of federal, state, or local labor law by securing passage of the POWER Act. And, a Biden Administration will ensure that workers on temporary visas are protected so that they are able to exercise the labor rights to which they are entitled.
  • Increases visas for domestic violence survivors. Under the Trump Administration, there are unacceptable processing delays for adjudicating applications for VAWA self-petitions, U-visas, and T-visas. As president, Biden will end these delays and give victims the security and certainty they need. And, Biden will triple the current cap of 10,000 on U-visas; this cap is insufficient to meet the dire needs of victims and hinders our public safety.

Welcome Immigrants in our Communities

Immigrants bring tremendous economic, cultural, and social value to their new communities. Even in cities hit hard by the loss of manufacturing jobs, immigrants are a key driver of entrepreneurship and population growth.

According to a 2017 report by the New American Economy, from 2000 to 2015, immigrants accounted for 49.7% of all population growth in the Great Lakes region — over 1.5 million people — which helped offset the impacts of population decline in cities like Syracuse and Akron. Immigrants are bringing new life to local economies–starting businesses, paying taxes, and spending their dollars back into their new communities. The Center for American Progress has estimated that DACA recipients will contribute about $460.3 billion to the national GDP over the next decade. The U.S. needs to retain the talents and drive of American-raised Dreamers to secure those benefits for our own economic health.

It’s time for the federal government to listen and learn from local municipalities across the country that have built vibrant and inclusive communities and economies by developing concrete policy and program recommendations at the grassroots level to provide opportunities for new immigrants.

As president, Biden will:

  • Marshal federal resources, through the reestablishment of the Task Force for New Americans, to support community efforts to welcome immigrants. Concrete efforts will most often happen within individual communities, but federal agencies have tremendous information and resources to support community-led efforts. By adopting initiatives promoted by organizations like Welcoming America, a Biden Administration will improve access to federal agencies and better support local initiatives, such as:
    • Establishing Offices of Immigrant Affairs in city halls, or at the county and state levels, so there are local government officials focused on making policies inclusive;
    • Creating neighborhood resource centers or welcome centers to help all residents find jobs; access services and English-language learning opportunities; and navigate the school system, health care system, and other important facets of daily life;
    • Supporting entrepreneur incubators targeted toward immigrants and providing resources to help access business loans, mentoring, and capital;
    • Promoting statewide seals of biliteracy to recognize people who graduate from high school speaking multiple languages;
    • Driving campaigns to help lawful permanent residents naturalize;
    • Facilitating statewide efforts to lower the barriers to relicense professional degrees and certifications from other countries;
    • Increasing immigrant representation on community boards;
    • Ensuring that all public schools have sufficient English-language learning support to help all children reach their potential; and
    • Investing in programs to connect immigrant professionals to others in their field or to create cultural events and other programming to build social capital in immigrant communities.
  • Push to repeal extreme, anti-immigrant state laws that have a chilling effect on the ability of immigrant domestic violence, sexual assault survivors, and other victims of crimes to seek safety and justice. Some state laws drive victims and witnesses into the shadows and threaten public safety. As documented in a recent national survey, immigrant victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and trafficking are increasingly afraid to contact police, pursue civil or criminal cases, or go to court to seek safety. This traps victims who either ask for help and risk deportation, retaliation by an abuser, and separation from one’s children, or stay with a violent partner and risk one’s life. As president, Biden will work in partnership with cities, states, nonprofits, and law enforcement to build trust and push for states to repeal the laws that chill the reporting of domestic violence incidents and threaten public safety.
  • Expand long overdue rights to farmworkers and domestic workers. When Congress extended labor rights and protections to workers, farmworkers and domestic workers – who are disproportionately immigrants and people of color – were left out. Still today, millions of these workers are not fully protected under federal labor law. As president, Biden will support legislation, including the Fairness for Farmworkers Act and Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, that expands federal protections to agricultural and domestic workers, ensuring that they too have the right to basic workplace protections and to organize and collectively bargain. And, through the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, Biden will ensure domestic workers have a voice in the workplace through a wage and standards board.

Reassert America’s Commitment to Asylum-Seekers and Refugees 

The Trump Administration’s policies have created a humanitarian disaster at our border and grossly mismanaged the unprecedented resources Congress has allocated for it. Trump has diverted money to terrorize immigrant families, even as CBP facilities at the border are overwhelmed. After almost three years, this Administration still doesn’t have a coherent plan for the protection and processing of children and families. CBP officers in the field, who are neither trained nor equipped for this work, are shouldering outsized responsibility for managing this crisis. And through his Migrant Protection Protocol policies, Trump has effectively closed our country to asylum seekers, forcing them instead to choose between waiting in dangerous situations, vulnerable to exploitation by cartels and other bad actors, or taking a risk to try crossing between the ports of entry. In other words, Trump’s policies are actually encouraging people to cross irregularly, rather than applying in a legal, safe, and orderly manner at the ports.

As president, Biden will:

  • Surge asylum officers to efficiently review the cases of recent border crossers and keep cases with positive credible-fear findings with the Asylum Division. This change, recommended by the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute, will eliminate duplication of resources and fact-finding while reviewing the merit of asylum cases and alleviate the burden on the overwhelmed immigration courts. Not everyone leaving Central America is an asylum applicant, but many are, and each case should be reviewed fairly and in full accordance with the law. Migrants who qualify for an asylum claim will be admitted to the country through an orderly process and connected with resources that will help them care for themselves. Migrants who do not qualify will have the opportunity to make their claim before an immigration judge, but if they are unable to satisfy the court, the government will help facilitate their successful reintegration into their home countries.
  • Restore asylum eligibility for domestic violence survivors. Under the Biden Administration, the U.S. Department of Justice will reinstate explicit asylum protections — rescinded by the Trump Administration —for domestic violence and sexual violence survivors whose home governments cannot or will not protect them.
  • Apply U.S. asylum laws to those fleeing political persecution. Victims of persecution based on political beliefs have also suffered under Trump’s curtailment of asylum processes and his failure to properly apply U.S. asylum laws.
  • Double the number of immigration judges, court staff, and interpreters. There is a backlog of more than one million immigration cases in the administrative system resulting in applicants often waiting years before their cases are heard. This increase in vital immigration court staffing will support timely and fair adjudications for asylum and other cases.
  • End for-profit detention centers. No business should profit from the suffering of desperate people fleeing violence. Biden will ensure that facilities that temporarily house migrants seeking asylum are held to the highest standards of care and prioritize the safety and dignity of families above all. 
  • Increase the number of refugees we welcome into the country. With more than 70 million displaced people in the world today, this is a moment that demands American leadership. Offering hope and safe haven to refugees is part of who we are as a country. As a senator, Joe Biden co-sponsored the legislation creating our refugee program, which Trump has steadily decimated. His Administration has reduced the refugee resettlement ceiling to its lowest levels in decades and slammed the door on thousands of individuals suffering persecution, many of whom face threats of violence or even death in their home countries. We cannot mobilize other countries to meet their humanitarian obligations if we are not ourselves upholding our cherished democratic values and firmly rejecting Trump’s nativist rhetoric and actions. Biden embraces the core values that have made us who we are and will prioritize restoring refugee admissions in line with our historic practice under both Democratic and Republican Administrations. He will set the annual global refugee admissions cap to 125,000, and seek to raise it over time commensurate with our responsibility, our values, and the unprecedented global need.

Tackle the Root Causes of Migration

The worst place to deal with irregular migration is at our own border. Rather than working in a cooperative manner with countries in the region to manage the crisis, Trump’s erratic, enforcement-only approach is making things worse. The best way to solve this challenge is to address the underlying violence, instability, and lack of opportunity that is compelling people to leave their homes in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras in the first place. As Vice President, Biden was the architect of a major program of U.S. assistance to advance reforms in Central America and address the key factors driving migration.

As president, Biden will pursue a comprehensive strategy to strengthen the security and prosperity of Central America in partnership with the people of the region that:

  • Addresses the root causes of migration by fostering greater security, economic development, and respect for the rule of law in Central America. The Northern Triangle is riven by violence, plagued by narco-trafficking, and held in fear by criminal organizations wielding military-grade weapons, and it is particularly dangerous for women and children. Biden will propose a four-year, $4 billion package of assistance for the region, with aid linked to governments in the region delivering measurable reductions in gang and gender-based violence, improvements in legal and educational systems, and implementation of anti-corruption measures, among other things. This support will also be supplemented by international donors and regional partners.
  • Strengthen regional humanitarian responses. The inability of the Northern Triangle countries to stem the violence and terror in the region has created a regional refugee challenge. Almost every country in the region is receiving refugees and struggling to protect and care for children and families. As a leader in the region, the U.S. has a responsibility to help our neighbors and partners process and support refugees and asylum seekers. This will also help relieve the pressure at our own border.
  • Manage migration through refugee resettlement and other legal programs. Whenever possible, we should enable asylum-seekers to make their claim without undertaking the dangerous journey to the U.S. Biden will update the Central American Minors program for certain children seeking to reunify with U.S. relatives, allowing them to apply for entry from their home countries; expand efforts to register and process refugees in the region for resettlement in the U.S. and other countries; and expand opportunities for individuals seeking temporary worker visas or another form of legal status for which they may qualify to be able to come to the U.S.

Implement Effective Border Screening

Like every nation, the U.S. has a right and a duty to secure our borders and protect our people against threats. But we know that immigrants and immigrant communities are not a threat to our security, and the government should never use xenophobia or fear tactics to scare voters for political gain. It’s irresponsible and un-American. Building a wall from sea-to-shining-sea is not a serious policy solution–it’s a waste of money, and it diverts critical resources away from the real threats. Today, illicit drugs are most likely to be smuggled through one of the legal U.S. ports of entry. They are hidden among commercial cargo in semi-trucks or in a hidden compartment of a passenger vehicle. A wall is not a serious deterrent for sophisticated criminal organizations that employ border tunnels, semi-submersible vessels, and aerial technology to overcome physical barriers at the border–or even for individuals with a reciprocating saw. We need smart, sensible policies that will actually strengthen our ability to catch these real threats by improving screening procedures at our legal ports of entry and investing in new technology. The border between Mexico and the U.S. shouldn’t be treated like a war zone; it should be a place where effective governance and cooperation between our two countries helps our communities thrive and grow together–facilitating commerce and connection, and fueling the exchange of cultures and ideas.

As president, Biden will:

  • Invest in better technology coupled with privacy protections at the border, both at and between ports of entry, including cameras, sensors, large-scale x-ray machines, and fixed towers. Biden will also invest heavily in improving the aging infrastructure at all of our ports of entry.
  • Improve cross-agency collaboration. Multiple federal agencies collect information on transnational criminal organizations that smuggle people, arms, and illegal narcotics. To more effectively combat the trafficking of illicit goods at the ports of entry, consistent with our commitment to privacy, we must improve our coordination across and between government agencies.
  • Work with Mexico and Canada as partners — not as adversaries. Better cooperation with our neighbors translates to greater security for all our countries. Instead of bullying our friends, Biden will build partnerships grounded in respect to pursue our shared interests and enhance our shared capabilities and information.