Since President Trump took office in 2016, there have been more than 400 immigration policy changes implemented, and these changes are going to be hard to undo even if a new immigration-friendly administration is ushered in after the next elections. So says a new report released by the Migration Policy Institute.
These policy changes range from reducing illegal entries at the United States’ southern border to increasing internal enforcement, curtailing refugee admissions and putting pressure on the immigration court system to reduce the backlog of more than 1 million cases awaiting adjudication.
But what sets this administration apart, according to the MPI report, is “the previously fringe idea that legal as well as illegal immigration is a threat to the United States’ economy and security.” From the administration’s rhetoric to the demands for additional scrutiny and paperwork, the administration has succeeded in reducing foreign talent coming into the United States.
On April 22, the president issued a proclamation suspending the entry of legal immigrants into the country, claiming that the 2019 novel coronavirus has significantly affected the job market in America.
“This proclamation is interesting because the president issued it not justifying this major immigration change with the public health crisis but rather with the economic crisis, saying that he is restricting permanent immigration into the country in order to protect U.S. nationals on the job market and in the economy,” said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at MPI, and one of the authors of the report.
The proclamation ends legal immigration into the country under several categories, including family based categories under which parents and siblings of U.S. citizens will no longer be eligible to enter the country. In perhaps an even more draconian move, the administration is now disallowing the spouses and children of legal permanent residents to unite with their loved ones. This in effect is the dismantling of the family structure of legal immigrants.
Another proclamation issued by the president on June 22 heaps added restrictions on legal immigration, restricting temporary workers from coming into the country, at least till the end of the year. With this proclamation the H1-B visa, the most common visa for skilled workers has been targeted.
“This, again, like the other provisions, accomplishes something that the administration was already working toward prior to the pandemic and they had significantly increased scrutiny of applications of temporary workers, especially the H1-B visa, and now with this one move they’ve significantly reduced that flow,” Pierce remarked.
The June 22 proclamation makes it harder for companies to sponsor skilled workers. Even employees who had once been sponsored will be required to go through the process again.
Green card applicants, too, are not exempt from additional scrutiny. Claiming national security considerations, green card applicants must now submit to an interview. “Having gone to numerous of those interviews, I have yet to see how national security is even raised in a single one of those interviews,” said immigration attorney Kalpana Peddibhotla, a former board member and advocacy lead for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Santa Clara Valley chapter. This has created a backlog in immigration handling, she added.
While the administration claims that the June 22 proclamation was a way to open up 525,000 jobs to U.S. workers, the reality is far more ambiguous. Both Pierce and Peddibhotla put the number of jobs saved at 167,000, mostly because all of these restrictions apply to people outside the United States, waiting to enter the country.
“These proclamations post COVID-19 are essentially a sledgehammer to business immigration,” Peddibhotla summarized. Numerous studies have indicated that immigrants are needed for a robust economy.
Giovanni Peri, director of the Global Migration Center, and a professor of economics at the University of California, Davis, published an analysis claiming that these immigration restrictions “will reduce long-term economic growth while also failing to increase the employment of Americans. In short, the suspension of H1-B visas will ultimately have a negative impact on the American economy.”
A 2011 study by American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, puts numbers to the positive impact of H1 and H2-B visas, estimating that adding 100 H1-B workers will result in an additional 183 jobs among U.S. natives and adding 100 H2-B workers results in an additional 464 jobs for U.S. natives. Temporary workers under these categories create a job multiplier effect, and the study found that there is “no evidence that foreign-born workers, taken in the aggregate, hurt U.S. employment.”
Even as the American economy has been assailed by the pandemic, the need for skilled workers has remained steady.
In July, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded the unemployment rate at 10.2 percent with 16.3 million people without jobs. Yet for graduates of STEM disciplines the situation has remained unchanged. In January, the unemployment rate for STEM graduates hovered around 3 percent and in May those rates were 2.5 percent. These are the disciplines for which H1-Bs are issued.
Immigrants are needed for job creation. Despite ample evidence to support this, President Trump is forcing his immigration restrictionist agenda on the American public. The long-term effects of these immigration changes could be catastrophic, especially if it slows our emergence out of a pandemic-induced economic freefall.
Jaya Padmanabhan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @jayapadmanabhan. She is a guest columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner.