Among the incoming Biden administration’s many ambitious plans for immigration is a significant commitment to reforming the visa program for temporary workers in select industries and reforming the temporary visa system. President-elect Biden also plans to increase the number of visas for permanent, work-based immigration based on macroeconomic conditions. Highlights include:
- Reforming the visa program for temporary workers in select industries. The Biden plan notes the dependence of “a collection of industries” on seasonal workers, or workers who seek to be in the United States for only a short time. President-elect Biden says he will work with Congress to allow workers in these industries to switch jobs, and to certify the labor market’s need for foreign workers. “Employers should be able to supply data showing a lack of labor availability and the harm that would result if temporary workers were unavailable.” Biden plans to include “strong safeguards that require employers to pay a fair calculation of the prevailing wage and ensure the right of all workers to join a union and exercise their labor rights.” The Biden plan says the goals are to help meet the needs of domestic employers, sustain higher wages for American and foreign workers, incentivize workers and employers to operate within legal channels, prevent the exploitation of temporary workers, and boost local economies.
- Reforming the temporary visa system. The Biden plan says that high-skilled temporary visas “should not be used to disincentivize recruiting workers already in the U.S. for in-demand occupations.” An immigration system that crowds out high-skilled workers in favor of those garnering “only entry-level wages and skills threatens American innovation and competitiveness,” the plan states. Biden says he will work with Congress to first reform the temporary visa system “to establish a wage-based allocation process and establish enforcement mechanisms to ensure [temporary visas] are aligned with the labor market and not used to undermine wages.” After that, Biden “will support expanding the number of high-skilled visas and eliminating the limits on employment-based visas by country,” which he says creates unacceptably long backlogs.
According to reports, Biden is also expected to reverse the Trump administration’s actions to ban work permits for the spouses of H-1B workers, which had an outsize effect on the many families in the United States from India.
- Increasing the number of visas offered for permanent, work-based immigration based on macroeconomic conditions. The Biden plan says the administration will work with Congress “to increase the number of visas awarded for permanent, employment-based immigration – and promote mechanisms to temporarily reduce the number of visas during times of high U.S. unemployment.” He will also exempt from any cap recent graduates of PhD programs in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields in the United States “who are poised to make some of the most important contributions to the world economy. President-elect Biden believes that foreign graduates of U.S. doctoral programs should receive a green card with their degree “and that losing these highly trained workers to foreign economies is a disservice to our own economic competitiveness.”
President-elect Biden also supports creating a new visa category to allow cities and counties to petition for higher levels of immigrants to support their growth, provided employers in those regions certify that there are jobs available with no U.S. workers to fill them. Holders of such visas would be required to work and reside in the city or county that petitioned for them, the plan states, and would be subject to the same certification protections as other employment-based immigrants.
The Biden plan cites the similar “Heartland Visa” proposed by the Economic Innovation Group. The plan notes that immigrants drive entrepreneurship and population growth even in cities hit hard by the loss of manufacturing jobs. For example, a report found that from 2000 to 2015, immigrants accounted for 49.7 percent of all population growth in the Great Lakes Region (more than 1.5 million people), which helped to offset the effects of population decline in cities like Syracuse and Akron. Immigrants are bringing new life to local economies by starting businesses, paying taxes, and spending their dollars in their new communities.
As the Biden plan states, it’s time for the federal government to listen and learn from local municipalities across the United States that have built vibrant and inclusive communities and economies in part through providing opportunities for new immigrants.
Contact your WR attorney for advice in specific situations.
- “The Biden Plan for Securing Our Values as a Nation of Immigrants,” https://joebiden.com/immigration/#
- Executive Summary, “From managing Decline to Building the Future: Could a Heartland Visa Help Struggling Regions?”, https://eig.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Executive-Summary-Heartland-Visas.pdf
- “Biden’s New Plan for H-1B Visas, Green Cards to Benefit Thousands,” NDTV, https://www.ndtv.com/indians-abroad/bidens-new-plan-for-h-1b-visas-green-cards-likely-to-benefit-thousands-2322230