We have all seen the effect of the Trump administration on U.S. immigration policy. On June 22, 2020, Trump’s presidential proclamation, prevented the entry of many foreign nationals on H-1B, L-1, H-2B, and J-1 visas through the end of the year. President Trump opined that current immigration policies disadvantaged U.S. workers from competing in the workforce, as many jobs were being taken by temporary foreign workers. In a report by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) in July, this statement was discounted suggesting that “restoring legal immigration to the level prior to when Trump administration policies reduced it will help America’s comeback from COVID-19 and enhance U.S. economic growth”. The report also found that “legal immigration will fall by 49% between FY 2016 and FY 2021 due to Trump administration policies,” a drop from 1,183,505 to 601,660”.
Shortly after the proclamation was enacted, foreign businesses and major tech companies were outraged and criticized the new policies. Amazon, Apple, Google-parent Alphabet, Uber, Twitter, declared that the U.S. immigration was “unbelievably bad policy” that would undermine America’s economic recovery and its competitiveness as foreign engineering talent from across the globe help “maintain Silicon Valley’s competitive edge in an increasingly global market”. Further regulations introduced further restricted the H-1B program.
The H-1B program changes did not stop. On October 8 two interim final regulations, which forgo the normal notice and comment procedures from the Labor Department (DOL) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were introduced. Effective on October 8, 2020, The DOL amended its regulations by increasing the minimum wage requirements for H-1B visa holders, as well as certain employment-based immigrant visas and some other temporary visas. The revised DHS regulation, which goes into effect on December 7, 2020, will revise the regulatory definition of and standards for a “specialty occupation” and place a limitation of one-year for third-party placements. While the focus of the H-1B reform has been to help U.S. workers find jobs, the results appear to be a disadvantage rather than an advantage to the U.S. economy.
While the Trump administration has managed to reduce U.S. immigration by almost 50%, the new Biden administration plans to do the opposite. In fact, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden understands how important immigration is to the U.S. nation and how important immigrant workers are to the U.S. economy.
President-elect Biden plans to undo the U.S. immigration restrictions passed by the Trump administration. He plans to pass legislation to increase immigration, increase the number of high-skilled visas, including the H-1B, and eliminate the limit on employment-based visas by country. Biden is also expected to reverse the revocation of work permits for spouses of H-1B visas. There are many other changes planned; all of which are aimed to turn the U.S. back to a nation of immigrants.
According to the Biden campaign’s policy document on immigration, “High skilled temporary visas should not be used to disincentivize recruiting workers already in the US for in-demand occupations. An immigration system that crowds out high-skilled workers in favour 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 labour 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,” it said.
Currently, there is a cap on employment-based visas at capped at 140,000 per year. The number fails to account for labour market needs or demands; therefore, Biden plans to work with Congress to increase the number of visas awarded for permanent, employment-based immigration. This includes cap exempting recent graduates of Ph.D. programs in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields and providing them with green cards as they are expected to make important contributions to the world economy. Without a path to green card, many of these Ph.D. graduates will relocate to other countries.
Another important immigration reform is the Biden administration’s plans to create a new immigration pathway to allow rural cities and counties to admit immigrants to support their shrinking populations and promote economic growth. This program will 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.” While the certification will be the same as current employment-based categories, visa holders will also be required to work and reside in the petitioning city or county.
There are also plans to increase family reunification as current processing times for some countries are severely delayed. With these new policies, approved applicants would receive a temporary non-immigrant visa until their permanent visa application is processed. This would include changing the classification of spouses and children of green card holders to that of “immediate relative” and exempt them from caps, as well as allowing parents to bring their minor children with them at the time they immigrate”.
Although these new immigration policies would be a positive change for the U.S., according to a recent article in “Forbes”, Biden’s immigration policy changes may be challenging unless there is a democratic win on the two runoff elections in Georgia. Despite that, Joe Biden will have an opportunity to enact significant changes to U.S. immigration policy”.