Immigration Policy and Compassion

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.

 

Immigration Drives the US Economy

Among the many myths about immigration in the US, the most prevalent is that a progressive immigration policy only benefits immigrants and their families. This couldn’t be farther from the truth: immigration policy affects the entire nation’s future and, with America’s economic and political position in the world, the future of the globe more broadly. Though partisan cynicism has led some to believe that immigration policy is a Democratic Party wedge issue designed to garner votes from the newly landed, it is actually a vital part of our 21st-century economy and needs to be approached with an informed understanding.

Many economic experts believe that our failed immigration policies were a major contributor to America’s most recent economic recession; Alan Greenspan himself spoke of immigration policy as central to the U.S. economic recovery and planning.

Unfortunately, immigration policy is often discussed from the most extreme points of view. Pro-immigrant advocates have argued for family unity and refugees, immigration policy as an international form of social work. They advocate for the rights of undocumented children, the basic needs of the poor immigrants, and the displaced and oppressed in other parts of the world. To maintain their ideological purity, many immigration advocates have ignored policy changes to improve employment-based immigration. As a result, immigration policies have developed as an ad hoc patchwork and not as a part of the comprehensive vision for America.

On the side, anti-immigrant forces advocate for protectionist policies, arguing that cheap immigrant workers are lowering the wages of the average American worker, taking jobs away from native-born Americans, and are taking advantage of the social safety net provided to those who reside in America. With such polarized political rhetoric, American employment-based immigration policies have been left to ossify into a complex paradoxical web of confusion and inefficiency, helping neither American companies nor their immigrant workers.

What immigration clients want from immigration lawyers

As an immigration lawyer, I always ask my clients how I can best serve them as we begin the immigration process together. I have learned over time that immigrants feel the greatest need for my knowledge of the subtleties of the immigration process, my accuracy in completing complex and confusing forms, my responsiveness to stressful and time-sensitive situations, and my ability to work for an affordable price – in that order of priority.

By understanding how my clients experience the legal side of the immigration process, I began to see how difficult it is for immigrants to have all of their needs met in a single lawyer; too often, immigrants must choose between knowledge, accuracy, or responsiveness if they want to be able to afford a lawyer.

This is because immigration lawyers who are accessible and respond quickly are not necessarily knowledgeable: the most experienced and knowledgeable lawyers tend to have larger practices that keep them away from clients as their time is divided between working on cases and managing their staff.

Further, immigration lawyers who are affordable are not necessarily working the strenuous hours required to ensure the accuracy of their work.

I have come to realize the service my clients deserve often comes at a financial cost that is difficult for them to bear.

 

 

What can I do to provide the best legal service to my clients?

I need to simultaneously be very knowledgeable (through my accumulated experience and by maintaining a large database of case histories), accurate (painstakingly careful in reviewing applications), accessible (by taking fewer cases or hiring more staff), and affordable (by taking more cases at a lower price or hiring fewer staff).

As you can see, it is not easy for immigration lawyers to effectively serve their clients while keeping costs down. Or to reverse the perspective, it is not easy for immigrants to find a lawyer who meets all their needs at a price they can afford. In this moment, a sacrifice needs to be made by someone in order to successfully complete the immigration process.

But why should this be the case? Why can’t we develop technologies to serve both immigrants and the lawyers they rely on?

Lawfully was created to achieve the competing goals of offering best-in-class legal service at a low cost, which is very rare and difficult for a human lawyer to provide without significant personal hardship (working extremely long hours and taking less profit than they could demand).

By leveraging advanced machine learning techniques and applying them to the intricacies of the immigration process, we believe we can take the legwork away from immigration lawyers so that, instead of pouring over minute mechanical details, they can spend their time gaining knowledge and responding to their clients concerns.

The Lawfully Team, by combining our legal technology platform and our expert immigration knowledge, will help to create a more accessible, accurate, and affordable immigration experience for everyone looking to bring their dreams and ambitions to a new country.

Myth or truth? Foreigners take jobs away from native-born doctors…

 

Though there is a shortage of qualified doctors in America, American makes it very difficult for qualified foreign doctors to work. Most foreign doctors, whether trained in the US or abroad, must struggle to work longer than the few years allowed under a J-1 temporary visa: they must obtain a waiver from the two year home residency requirement – a provision attached to the J-1 medical trainee visa – and then apply for a green card. In order to get this residency requirement waived, obtain longer-term stability, and not disrupt the lives of their families or the progress of their careers, they must go through an arduous process.

 

Often times, the only option they have is to commit and practice 5 years in an underserved area with a meager salary and to forego opportunities for advancement; such a decision can affect their financial and professional prospects for the rest of their lives. This is a poor reward for those foreign doctors who wish to provide much-needed healthcare to Americans.

 

Myth or truth? Foreign scientists are industrial and military spies…

 

Jobs in scientific research labs are not highly-sought by young Americans. The pay is low, glamor is rare, and hours are long. Foreign scientists, Ph.D.s, and post-docs are doing a significant amount of American research, yet most university and government labs, as well as research centers, have policies to not sponsor immigrant petitions for these talented scientists to continue their research. The rationale for this unwillingness to help grow the careers of foreign scientists in America, to help them become American, is a stigma that they may be trying to steal research for their country of origin. The work of these scientists, often performed under much suspicion and rewarded with a paycheck barely above the poverty line, is then regularly leveraged by the star principal investigators to publish papers and secure grants and status at research institutions.

While many famous and award-winning American scientists and industrialists are in fact immigrants themselves, or children of immigrants, the increasing difficulty of obtaining visas and green cards for the best and the brightest is causing us to lose our scientific and technological leadership in the world.

 

Can a Nation of Immigrants be a Nation for Immigrants?

Part 1

I am exhausted by the hateful arguments deployed against immigrants in our country – the United States, a place that has been called the Land of Opportunity. While it is true to say that America is a country of immigrants, it requires a short memory to believe that fear and distrust of immigrants are unique to our time: historically, whenever the country has faced hardship, it has always been easier to blame ‘the others’ and than to see the problems in ‘us’. Fortunately, we are in a position today to educate each other on the truth about immigrant contributions to our economy and our culture. Let us examine some of the prevailing myths surrounding immigrants in America.

Myth or truth? Immigrants are taking advantage of American taxpayers…

A country’s future can be seen in the average age of its population. Europe’s global economic influence has faded while Japan’s economy has stagnated. Why? Because as their populations age, these countries are becoming less productive and more burdened by social benefits. American society would be in a similar situation, collapsing under the weight of its own social security system, if not for the ongoing influx of young, vibrant, and hard-working immigrants.

Foreign workers on H-1B visas, who are wrongly blamed for the job loss of native-born Americans, pay social security taxes out of their paychecks, without ever knowing if they will be able to stay more than their initial 3 years of H-1B authorized stay; in many ways, immigrants contribute to American programs they may never benefit from, without the protections afforded to American citizens. They can be fired at the whim of their employers with a minimum grace period to stay while they think over the next steps for their future. When that happens, they are not entitled to unemployment insurance, although they paid for it through taxation, since they have to leave promptly under the law; their house and/or possessions have to be sold, their lease must end abruptly, and their children cannot finish out their school year.

Further, a majority of undocumented immigrants are paying American taxes as well – whether through a false social security card or tax identification number and through everyday purchases and rent. The true beneficiaries of our broken tax system are the rich, who are able take advantage of tax shelters, complex legal loopholes, and government subsidies.

Ultimately, immigrants are an important part of the tax base: they pay for our elderly, our highways, Medicare, our schools, and even for our military.

Myth or truth? Foreign students are a burden on our society…

 

Two of America’s largest industries are Hollywood and, maybe surprisingly, higher education. Many colleges and universities are profitable businesses with significant portions of their revenue being driven by foreign students. Without the tuition and living expenses they pay, many jobs in colleges and college towns, as well as tax revenue generated from student purchases, would be lost. Despite the economic benefits of international students, many are forced to miss portions of their academic experience because of visa delays at the US consulates. Once they arrive in the US, many students fall out of legal status because they do not received adequate support from their college or university to guide them through the maze of legal procedures. Too often, international students must leave the United States without completing their intended course of study, depriving them and America of the benefits of their presence in our education system.

Foreign students do not just study, spend money, and leave. They also learn about American values, our culture, and our people. When they return to their own country, or decide or find a way to stay here, they want to do business with Americans and often open up their connections back home. Globalization is not optional in a contemporary world; it is a fact of economic reality that the rest of the world already has grasped. By subjecting foreign students to hostile treatment at US consulates abroad during the visa application process, it unnecessarily lowers the likelihood of America benefitting from some of the world’s brightest, best-connected young people. In many ways, foreign students are gold nuggets lying in our riverbeds and we should treat them as such.