In today’s blog, Attorney Alexandra Sanchez discusses proposed changes to temporary visas in the draft Senate reform bill:
The Senate’s immigration bill proposes to increase substantially the number of visas available for high-skilled workers (or workers in occupations requiring at least a Bachelor’s degree). Increasing the H-1B visa cap and exempting STEM graduates from the numerical limitations have been the main focus of supporters of immigration reform and its economic benefits. From a cap set currently at 65,000 per year, the bill increases H-1B visas to at least 110,000 with the possibility of making up to 180,000 visas available in the future depending on market conditions. Businesses have welcomed the expansion of the H-1B program, and are now focused on making less burdensome some of the program requirements designed to protect the US workforce.
On the other side of the spectrum, however, the Senate bill falls short in making available enough visas for low-skilled workers (or workers in occupations that require less than a Bachelor’s degree). Title IV includes a provision creating the W Nonimmigrant Visa category for foreign nationals in low skilled occupations, and creating the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research to make determinations on shortage occupations. Starting on April 1, 2015, the annual cap for W non immigrant visas will be set at 20,000 for the first year; 35,000 for the second year; 55,000 for the third year, and 75,000 for the fourth year. After the fourth year, the annual cap will be calculated using a formula that takes into account market considerations. Still, it seems that the number of visas envisioned by the Senate bill for low-skill workers remains incredibly low vis-à-vis the adequate number of workers that would be needed to provide essential services like healthcare, childcare, and others.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has begun its debate of these provisions. We will soon know which of these proposals make it out of Committee.
Mooers Immigration has long been engaged in Comprehensive Immigration Reform, responding to Congressional inquiries on policy and law issues. We are regularly asked to assist elected officials and their staff to understand both the benefits and consequences of various proposals for reform.
May 9, 2013: The Senate Judiciary Committee Begins Mark-Up of Bipartisan Immigration Bill
This morning the Senate Judiciary Committee began its deliberation of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” immigration bill and the 300 amendments filed by Senators. Completing the process, called a “mark-up”, will be arduous and contentious. Many of the amendments help to strengthen various components of the legislation, while other amendments are designed to serve as “poison pills” to destroy support for the bill. This is the way of Washington and Capitol Hill, and has been for over 200 years.
The final bill – if a bill is actually approved by the Committee – will likely be substantially altered from the bill as originally filed. The Senate Committee will continue to proceed through the amendments in a logical, rational process, covering first Border Security topics, and then moving Green Cards and “Immigrant Integration” issues, Interior Enforcement, and then Temporary Visas. Each of these sections will provide its own drama, arguments pro and con, and attempts to scuttle the overall immigration bill.
If you love the minutiae, you can follow the action at: http://www.judiciary.senate.gov/.
The Senate Judiciary Committee announced that it will begin deliberations on the “Gang of Eight” bipartisan Immigration Bill starting next week (on Thursday, May 9). Does this mean that Immigration Reform is right around the corner? Not at all.
Here is a best-case scenario for Congressional action on Immigration Reform:
October to December 2013
Once again, this schedule is a best-case scenario. Congress may wish to move quickly on Immigration Reform, but with the both Democrats and Republicans divided on the size and scope of any such reform, chances are that this process will take most of 2013 or longer. Moreover, immigration opponents believe that the longer the debate on Immigration Reform, the greater the chances that their side will win.
Our first key element to a long-term immigration reform solution was to focus on maximizing economic benefit. Our second key element is minimizing harm to the US economy and to American workers. The first solution to minimizing harm is to maintain a rigorous labor market testing process for most positions, especially those requiring bachelor’s degrees or less, to ensure that capable American workers get first preference for positions.
The second part of the solution is to consider significant modifications to family based Green Cards to focus solely on spouses and children of US citizens and permanent residents. By eliminating parent and sibling preferences for Green Cards, Congress will reduce strain on entitlement programs since many or most enter the US as permanent residents in their retirement years after putting zero resources into US tax rolls or Medicare and Social Security trust funds. Moreover, in doing what is best for the US economy, Congress would put the US in line with other developed countries. No other countries provide an immigrant with the expectation of being able to turn around and sponsor parents and siblings for Green Cards. Parents and siblings should have the opportunity to visit the US, but Congress should explore whether or not it makes sense to allow them to become Green Card holders solely based on blood and not on skills or education.
Next, Congress needs to ensure that foreign workers do not enter the US to compete for jobs where there are already more than adequate numbers of US workers. Since Congress is ill-equipped to make determinations of US worker shortage areas based on objective criteria, the time has come for Congress to create an independent panel of experts whose job it will be to forecast sectors where numbers of US workers fall short and recommend how many foreign workers in that position are needed for the US economy. These experts come from government agencies, business, worker groups, and other key constituencies.
Finally, Congress will need to retain at least some limited temporary worker programs for unskilled workers. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on one’s perspective, there will likely never be a time when the US will have sufficient workers willing to perform all the so-called “dirty jobs” at the lowest rung of the job ladder that keep the American economy working. Workers at the low end of the economic ladder strive to move up that ladder—few are content to remain where they are—and this creates a continuous vacuum of unfilled unskilled jobs.
With the consensus apparently having been reached that Republicans and Democrats both want immigration reform, what should the solution look like? Over the next two weeks, Mooers Immigration will provide our thoughts on what immigration reform needs to include in order to be successful.
We start with what we believe should be overarching objective number one: create a solution that makes sense for the short, medium, and long term prospects of the US economy. In other words, Congress’ focus should be on maximizing economic benefit for our country’s prosperity. For this we see four elements.
First, the solution should assure the flow of individuals with funds to invest and skills to meet shortage areas in industry. We need entrepreneurs who are willing to invest their monetary resources and sweat equity to grab a piece of the American Dream. We need smart people in laboratories and research institutions to develop the technology that will keep American on the cutting edge of research and development, and we must finally recognize that we have a desperate shortage of Americans willing to provide low-skill services to our growing elderly population, to perform unskilled “dirty jobs” on construction sites, in agriculture, restaurants, hotels, and hundreds of thousands of establishments across America. Throughout American history, these are the jobs that have been performed by newly arrived immigrants. We must recognize their importance and celebrate the value of even the lowest skilled positions.
Next, we need to take a critical look at family categories. Uniting families has been a core American value, but exactly what constitutes that family has significant economic benefits and consequences. All sides are agreed on the need to unite nuclear families, i.e. two parents and their children, especially minor children. However, under current law, as soon as an individual becomes a US Citizen he or she can immediately turn around and sponsor parents, brothers, and sisters. Given the fact that the parents and siblings arrive in the US at or near retirement age, can America afford the burden that they present? They have not worked in the US, and most will never work in the US. They have never paid into Social Security and Medicare or paid federal or state income taxes, and yet when the day comes for the inevitable medical needs and nursing home care, it is unlikely that the US government will turn its back on these individuals. When making a decision about a skilled or unskilled worker’s Green Card, Congress should consider whether or not there should be an expectation on the part of the US government that a Green Card is likely to result in the immigration of potentially dozens of members of an individual’s extended family.
Third, we need to continue to provide hope to a limited number of people in every corner of the world that the American Dream remains a possibility. The Green Card lottery is one of the most effective diplomatic tools our country has to provide such hope. In doing so, it helps reduce the undocumented flow of individuals from many countries of the world because the individuals know that if they break the rules, they will no longer be eligible for the lottery. Together with the lottery, America needs to remain engaged with assistance programs and other forms of “soft power” to help individuals see hope in their own neighborhoods and their own countries. Effective foreign assistance is one of our most effective tools to reduce immigration pressures on our borders.
Finally, while it may not have a direct economic benefit, Congress needs to ensure that America carries its fair share of the burden of refugee resettlement and other global humanitarian programs under the auspices of the United Nations. By complying with our international responsibilities, our country strengthens its leadership role. We need to work closely with every country in the world if we ever truly wish to develop and implement an immigration regime that makes the most sense for our country.
Our next post will focus on objective two: minimizing economic harm to the US and American workers.
When it comes to the 8 to 12 million undocumented individuals currently in the US, there is only one consensus that has seemingly been reached in the aftermath of the election, and that is that a mass deportation will not work. The second consensus that has been reached, namely among Republicans, is that the self-deportation fix promoted by candidate Romney will also not work.
On almost every other issue there is wide disagreement regarding the next steps. Conservatives state that they fear that legalization will result in a new wave of undocumented immigrants who will rush in to replace the newly legalized. They claim this is what happened following the so-called Reagan Amnesty. In order to ensure that this does not happen, this side advocates a painful and lengthy process towards legalization. This process would include large fines, payment of all back taxes for prior work performed in the US, and the mandate that they immediately learn English. The plan would also require them to either leave the US and apply for a visa at a US Embassy or wait in the US for years (10 or more) before they could be eligible for a Green Card.
Those on the other side would like to see this population legalized as quickly as possible. Proponents of this view point to the contributions already made by undocumented workers, which includes trillions of dollars paid into federal and state tax rolls and over 1 trillion dollars accumulated thus far in the Social Security Trust Fund. Moreover, organized labor is eager to incorporate low wage earners into the rolls of unions. They see these workers as the best opportunity for expansion in a generation. Additionally, many businesses prefer to have these workers legalized quickly so they can put potential nightmare scenarios involving I-9 violations behind them.
Finally, realtors and other service providers welcome a fast path to legalization because it will likely lead to more home purchases, consumer purchases, and other related benefits as individuals feel free to come out from the shadows.
There is a lot of room for compromise between the sides on this issue. The key will be providing conservatives with something they can point to so that they can claim that undocumented immigrants were prevented from jumping the line, while at the same time not creating such a draconian solution that would defeat the benefits to the economy and social fabric of America resulting from the incorporation of these hardworking individuals into our society.
On Sunday night, 60 Minutes aired a story about the 3 million jobs in America that remain unfilled because qualified applicants are unavailable. The fact that these jobs require skilled workers points to the fact that the US needs to bring in skilled workers from abroad or hope that enough Americans are willing to train for these positions. This challenge is at the heart of what will be a key debate in Comprehensive Immigration Reform regarding workers.
On the same day, a prominent Republican Senator discussed the need for a massive expansion of the temporary guest worker program. This will be the second element of the debate—i.e. should skilled workers come in on a permanent basis and eventually have a path to citizenship, or should the US instead limit their stay to a certain number of years, after which they must return home? This guest worker push is especially strong among conservatives with regards to unskilled jobs—i.e. the millions of so-called low-paying “dirty jobs” that are currently filled primarily by undocumented workers. Unions and immigrant rights groups detest the idea of guest worker provisions. Businesses appear neutral; what they want, many have told us, is a system that will allow them to access the workers they need for success. Be ready for a huge battle on this front.
Regarding investors, there seems to be common agreement that finding a way to bring new investment money into the US will be good for the economy and create more American jobs. However, because this is an area rife with potential fraud, it will not be an easy task to strike a balance between needed government oversight and entrepreneurial spirit.
Finally, when it comes to the future flow of immigration to the US, it is family related immigration that dwarfs the numbers associated with employment related classes. Great challenges and opportunities regarding the future flow of immigrants really rest in the family category. All sides agree on the need to and desire for preserving immediate family unity. A US Citizen or Permanent Resident should be able to sponsor their spouse and children. The trickier questions arise, however, about whether parents or siblings should be included in the equation. At a time of rising health care costs, crisis in Medicare and the Social Security trust fund, and provisions of Medicaid at the state level, the question arises of whether it makes sense for elderly individuals, who have paid nothing into the US system, to have the right to become a US Citizen simply because an adult child qualified for a Green Card. The same equation holds for brothers and sisters.
The important questions will be whether Congress has enough sense to get itself out of the allocation of numbers for Green Cards. In many countries, boards of experts determine a country’s needs and then adjust the immigration flow upward or downward to reflect the changing need. For instance, if it turns out that we have a massive shortage of skilled plumbers in the US, and it is important for our economy to have an infusion of plumbers to meet the shortage, it will be impossible for Congress to move deftly enough to meet the challenge. In many ways, this will be the stickiest part of the entire exercise related to immigration reform. How many foreign nations are admitted into the US, which categories, and from which countries, will determine the pace of America for generations to come.
One of the three main components of Comprehensive Immigration Reform is enforcement, both in the workplace and at our borders. As record numbers of deportations and actions against employers show, the Obama Administration has worked harder on enforcement than any administration in recent history.
According to ICE, as of July 2012, the Obama Administration has deported approximately 1.4 million people. At the current rate, the Obama Administration will far exceed the Bush Administration’s eight year total of two million deportations.
At our borders, the CBP reported more than 340,000 individuals apprehended in FY 2011. The number of apprehensions has steadily and significantly declined in recent years. Increased border security and the declining economy have been cited as possible factors in the decline of undocumented individuals attempting to enter the US at our borders.
The Obama Administration has also increasingly targeted employers who violate Federal immigration laws by imposing harsh penalties and charges against those found guilty of hiring undocumented workers. Fast food giant Chipotle is just one of the many companies whose hiring practices have recently been investigated.
While a great deal of progress has been made in enforcement over the past four years, one important reform has yet to be made: the elimination of the ability of states like Arizona and Alabama to intrude on the enforcement of Federal immigration laws. In recent years, due to congressional inaction on immigration reform, a number of states have passed draconian laws that at best violated the Constitution and at worst demonstrated legislators’ fear and loathing of foreign-born individuals. This reform, coupled with the actions the administration has taken over the past four years, will create just one piece of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform puzzle.
Last week’s election showed the importance of immigrant voting blocks. The percentage of immigrant voters rose, while the percentage of African American voters remained the same and white American voters decreased.
Leaders from both sides are now talking about what is needed for Comprehensive Immigration Reform to happen. It is in the best interest of both the Democrats and the Republicans for reform to happen.
The three big issues that still need to be resolved are:
This week’s blogs will focus on each of these in more detail. Pressure is mounting from media to get something done quickly:
Washington Post (Opinion): The way forward
By Charles Krauthammer
CNN (Opinion): Both parties must lead on immigration
By Ali Noorani
TIME (Opinion): The Power of the Asian and Latino Vote
By Jose Antonio Vargas
ABC News: GOP Soul Searching Could Spur Action on Immigration
By Z Byron Wolf
USA Today (Editorial): Immigration reform good for GOP, USA
Bloomberg (Editorial): The Political Inevitability of Immigration Reform
By Quanicia Alston Feb. 23 on…
Here is Mooers Immigration's initial synopsis of…
Emory News Center, Atlanta "Executive action…
by Jim Acosta, Athena Jones and Kevin Liptak,…
Immigration attorney Don Mooers provides…
Editorial Board, Los Angeles Times "Requests…
We invite you to read the latest edition of our newsletter to learn more about the Immigration Reform debate in Congress and other useful information. Let us know what you think!
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