Biden and the companies agree on one thing: the US needs immigrant workers

Biden and the companies agree on one thing: the US needs immigrant workers

Processing delays slow down “all sorts of other things that a company has to do. So when they can’t get things processed timely, that means people have to be taken off the payroll,” Baselice said.

“The processing issues are huge,” said Jon Baselice, vice president of immigration policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “That’s the most disruptive thing that I hear from companies on a regular basis.”

Highlights

  • “These are folks who are working” and “who took jobs to support themselves and their families,” said Emma Winger, a staff attorney at the American Immigration Council. “Now, because of this delay, they’re losing their jobs. And many of those people were contributing to the economy and filling jobs that the U.S. really needs.”

  • Foreign nationals already in the U.S. have been waiting for months — and in some cases, for over a year — to have their employment authorization approved or extended due to processing holdups at USCIS field centers, caused partly by the coronavirus pandemic. That’s forced some people, including asylum seekers, to quit their jobs in the U.S. after their work permits expired.

The delays across the agency have also prevented USCIS from issuing green cards that would give foreigners the ability to work in the U.S. permanently, leaving thousands to expire this year.

Winger is representing an asylum advocacy group in a lawsuit over USCIS processing delays affecting health care workers, a truck driver, a fast-food manager and others.

The fight is now playing out in the debate over Democrats’ $1.7 trillion Build Back Better legislation.

The House version of the bill would recapture unused immigrant visas going back to 1992, freeing up 157,000 employment-based visas, according to an estimate from Democrats, in addition to roughly 262,000 family-based and diversity visa slots, which would also allow applicants to work.

It would provide temporary protection and work authorization to an estimated 7 million undocumented immigrants — including Dreamers and farmworkers — who are already in the U.S., which Democrats say will “accelerate” the economic recovery. The House version of the legislation would also provide $2.8 billion to help USCIS process those new cases and fix processing delays. Some business groups agree, saying the immigration provisions in the bill are necessary to address labor shortages that are contributing to rising inflation.

“Immigrant workers are a critical component for calming the current hike in inflation,” the American Business Immigration Coalition wrote in a letter to the president and Democratic leadership this week. “Labor shortages result in construction delays, higher production costs, and lower inventory levels, which all lead to inflation.” But anti-immigration groups have panned the provisions in the Democrats’ bill as providing “amnesty” to millions and warned that the changes could actually have a negative effect on the economy.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform, which pushes for lower levels of immigration, argued in an analysis of the Build Back Better act that “the sudden increase in the supply of legal labor generated by amnesty would likely further contribute to wage stagnation, giving employers even less incentive to raise wages.” Robert Law, director of regulatory affairs and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the money included in legislation won’t be enough to resolve USCIS’ backlog issues.

Experts say the problem is two-fold, pointing to what they see as arbitrary caps on employment-based immigration, along with agency-wide delays in processing immigration documents. Employment-based visas are capped at 140,000 each year and typically expire at the end of the year if they go unused. Under current law, people from any single country may only receive 7 percent of an annual pool of employment and family-based green cards. Immigrants from countries such as India, China, Mexico and the Philippines can face green card waits that span years.

Democrats are already facing an uphill battle getting their broad social spending package through the Senate, where the bill’s immigration reform sections still need to be approved by the parliamentarian, who has blocked attempts to include immigration reform before. “There are so many structural problems within USCIS that, frankly, I don’t think that money would make much difference as far as reducing some of the processing times,” Law said. “There’s too much volume, there’s too many other obstacles.”