2017 was a turbulent year for nearly every facet of American life, particularly where immigration law and implementation were concerned. As immigration policy governs how human beings traverse our borders, it is inseparable from our security and economic policies. Thus, when our immigration policies change, it impacts all of us, immigrants and native US citizens alike.
The most infamous policies pursued by the President of the United States and the Republican party in 2017 include the Muslim travel ban, increased arrests of the undocumented immigrants, the establishment of border wall, and a rescission of DACA. While these policies touched on religion, family, and race issues, thereby invoking strong public reaction and condemnation, government agencies continued to suppress legal immigration quietly behind the scenes, attracting far less attention than some of the more inflammatory policy decisions. One might call this under-the-radar suppression of legal immigration “the invisible wall.”
Since the executive order “Buy American Hire American” was issued, USCIS, ICE, and US Consulates have increased and added more vetting procedures for prospective United States immigrants and temporary workers. For example,
- When conducting applicant interviews for USCIS approved cases, the US consulate has implemented onerous administrative processing requirements with no specific rationale, causing delays from several months to over a year in an already lengthy process
- USCIS has added mandatory interviews on most employment based immigration cases
- There is now a higher standard of review and an increased request for evidence for submitting an application for an H-1B visa
- Visa extension cases, where immigrants have already been vetted, are being managed with same standards used in processing initial cases
- The EAD (Employment Authorization Document) has seen significant and unprecedented processing delays
As a result of these deliberate stalling measures, both employers and immigrant employees are experiencing immense inconvenience and disruption of business. The path to legal immigration has been narrowed and fewer foreign visitor, students, workers, and immigrants are permitted to enter the United States.
One of the immigration policy goals of the current administration for 2018 is the discontinuance of H-1B visa extensions beyond the initial six years. The seventh-year extension has been for green card applicants who have begun the process of obtaining a green card some time ago but are still waiting in line for the next available visa number. If this extension is disallowed, employers may simply lose highly qualified employees who have established their lives in the US. Whether or not this would lead to increased job opportunities for Americans remains unclear as immigration sponsorship is already quite expensive and cumbersome; employers do not pursue H-1B workers if they have qualified candidates who are US citizens.
When a long-held policy changes suddenly, it results in many applicants having to leave the life and work they have known for significant years to find shelter in another country, taking their talent and their ability to contribute to the economy with them.
In response to some of the administrations immigration policy decisions around stripping citizenship rights based on administrative errors, even John Roberts, the conservative US Supreme Court Chief Justice, has said that the administrations efforts amount to “prosecutorial abuse.”
When a policy is thought of and implemented, its power goes beyond the text of a bill: policies impact real peoples’ lives. No policy will perfectly accommodate every immigration case and sacrifices may be unavoidable. However, a policy with compassion rather than spite would yield better outcomes for our country – on principle as well as in practice.