Visas, Dreamers, Enforcement Top Immigration Lobby Issues

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By Genevieve Douglas and Jasmine Ye Han

Spending on immigration lobbying held steady in the second quarter of 2017 and remained markedly up from the previous year, according to Bloomberg Government data.

Lobbying data reveals that spending in the second quarter was $12 million, up from $10.1 million in the second quarter of 2016. Businesses and coalitions focused their efforts on five main areas of policy: high-skilled immigration, agriculture and guest-worker programs, legislation to provide a permanent solution for children brought to the U.S., investor visa programs, and enforcement.

The vast majority of lobbyists in the high-skilled immigration arena were tech companies, while colleges and universities did most of the lobbying for the deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) program. Agricultural and industrial entities expressed concern about changes to temporary and guest-worker visa programs, and venture capitalists and real estate coalitions were responsible in large part for lobbying on investor visas.

High-Skilled Visas and Tech

Approximately 100 organizations lobbied on the issue of high-skilled workers, which includes programs such as H-1B visas for professionals in highly specialized fields and the Optional Practical Training program for foreign students who study science, technology, engineering, or math at U.S. universities.

In 2016, the U.S. technology sector workforce grew by nearly 3 percent (182,000 jobs), bringing industry totals close to 7 million workers—approximately 4 percent of the total U.S. workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. H-1B visa recipients and other foreign-born STEM workers are needed to help fill the employment gap that the rapid growth of technology has caused, the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) said in a recent report on immigration policy.

Increasing the number of green cards available for high-skilled STEM graduates, implementing market-based visa caps for the H-1B program, and even creating new visas for entrepreneurs are policy changes CompTIA and other tech industry organizations would support, the association said. Other organizations lobbying about high-skilled visas include Microsoft Inc., Google Inc., Apple Inc., and Amazon Corporate LLC.

The Trump administration outlined changes it would like to see in the H-1B program in its “Hire American, Buy American” executive order. The order calls for the heads of various agencies to ensure that temporary visas for skilled workers are awarded to “the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.” H-1B visas currently are handed out according to the results of a random lottery.

Guest-Worker, Temporary Visas

On the other side of immigration visa programs, 84 organizations cited guest workers, seasonal workers, temporary visas, and corresponding visa programs in their lobbying disclosures.

For example, UnitedAg members have been increasingly concerned about the aging of the current agriculture workforce, the lack of any category within the existing immigrant admission programs to sponsor these workers, and the lack of younger workers entering the agriculture labor workforce, A.J. Cisney, vice chairman of the UnitedAg Board of Directors, told Bloomberg BNA via email Aug. 13.

“For many years, UnitedAg has engaged with the federal agencies overseeing the H-2A program to encourage improved efficiencies in visa processing that would reduce paperwork and eliminate delays. In addition, UnitedAg has supported proposals that would ensure stability for our current workforce, whether administrative or legislative. We continued that activity in the second quarter,” Cisney said.

H-2A guest workers represent a rapidly growing share of the agriculture workforce, which has ranged from 1.1 million to 1.4 million workers over the past decade, according to data from the Migration Policy Institute. The H-2A visa program alone has seen a large increase over the past two decades—from 11,000 visas issued in 1996 to more than 134,000 in 2016, the MPI said.

Declining migration from Mexico could be influencing the growing focus on the H-2A program, Philip Martin, a University of California, Davis, agricultural economist, said in the MPI report. “The expansion of the H-2A program is due in part to the fact that it removes uncertainty about whether or not a sufficient workforce will be available when needed,” he said.

House Republicans are pushing for an overhaul of the H-2A temporary worker program. At a July 19 hearing before the House Judiciary’s Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee, representatives from both parties seemed to agree that U.S. workers aren’t available to fill agricultural jobs.

Universities and Dreamers

Universities and colleges across the U.S. have been vocal about their support for solutions that would make the Obama administration’s DACA program permanent. More than 600 college and university presidents from public and private institutions have signaled their support for DACA students and the continuation of the program that allows undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to attend school and work, and pursue a path to citizenship in the U.S.

“There is considerable stress on the lives of these children on college campuses,” because of the uncertainty of their status, Cindy Love, executive director of the American College Personnel Association, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 10. More often than not, these students’ biggest fear is that their parents will be deported, and that fear and anxiety can be a barrier to their academic success, she said.

Bloomberg Government data reveal that 66 organizations lobbied specifically on DACA or legislation related to the program. Those organizations include Georgetown University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, and others.

“The protection DACA offers to some of MIT’s students matters not just for them, but for us all: their success is America’s success,” MIT President L. Rafael Reif told Bloomberg BNA. “They are among the incredibly talented young people who come to MIT to work on some of the world’s biggest challenges.”

Currently there is legislation in both the Senate and the House to make the DACA program permanent. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced the latest version of the Dream Act of 2017 to give young immigrants who grew up in the U.S. a path to citizenship. On the House side, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) introduced the American Hope Act of 2017, a bill that would achieve the same goals of permanent legal status for DACA recipients and others who arrived in the U.S. as children.

EB-5 Investor Program

The EB-5 investor visa program was cited in lobbying disclosure forms by 41 entities, mostly business groups. The program provides green cards to immigrants who invest at least $500,000 in a commercial enterprise that creates at least 10 U.S. jobs. Congressional debate has been ongoing on how to stop abuses of the program.

“In recent months, the business community has been deeply involved in the debate about program reforms to better safeguard national security, deter investor fraud, and strengthen program integrity,” Angelique Brunner, founder and president of EB5 Capital and industry membership chair and spokesperson for the EB-5 Investment Coalition, told Bloomberg BNA via email Aug. 11. “As a Coalition, we fully support strong, substantive reforms to improve this important job-creating program. We also support addressing issues of visa accessibility in order to maintain the viability of the EB-5 program,” Brunner said.

The program was extended in May as part of the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress. Legislators will have to decide by Sept. 30 whether to give it another extension. “The industry continues to advocate that Congress pass legislation that institutes meaningful reforms to strengthen and permanently extend the EB-5 program,” Brunner said. “Without that, it is very difficult for Regional Centers to raise capital for new economic development.”

Enforcement

Despite the Trump administration’s focus on increasing immigration enforcement efforts, data citing enforcement-related efforts were mixed. Fewer lobbying organizations cited support for eliminating legal immigration programs than those advocating for an overhaul of the current immigration system, or modifying immigration programs, according to Bloomberg BNA’s analysis of the data.

By the numbers, 32 organizations cited the electronic employment verification system; 17 organizations mentioned “border security” or “border enforcement"; nine organizations lobbied on issues related to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency; eight mentioned the “border wall"; and six cited the Michael Davis Jr. and Danny Oliver in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act.

The lack of cohesion in enforcement lobbying could be due in part to the administration’s continuing actions on this front. President Donald Trump and Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) recently unveiled legislation that would reduce the number of legal immigrants--particularly low-skilled workers--entering the U.S. by requiring standards for English proficiency, higher degrees of education, and the ability for the individuals to support themselves and their families. The measure would also consider age, favoring applicants who are near to their prime working years.

At a more local level, ICE announced 18 new agreements July 31 that will deputize local law enforcement in Texas to act on immigration enforcement matters.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com and Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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