President Obama has put on a good show lately about the need for the populace to rise up and pressure the GOP to enact comprehensive immigration reform. He urges citizens to begin “a national conversation on immigration reform that builds a bipartisan consensus to fix our broken immigration system so it works for America’s 21st century economy.” With the White House claiming that “he can’t do it alone,” he asks you and me to host roundtables that will “help bring the debate to your community.”
Were it not for the Republicans who keep moving the goal posts on border security, he claimed on May 10 in El Paso, we’d be able, together, to devise the grand solution that fixes our nation’s wholly dysfunctional immigration system:
We have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement. All the stuff they asked for, we’ve done. But even though we’ve answered these concerns, I’ve got to say I suspect there are still going to be some who are trying to move the goal posts on us one more time. . . . they said we needed to triple the Border Patrol. Or now they’re going to say we need to quadruple the Border Patrol. Or they’ll want a higher fence. Maybe they’ll need a moat. (Laughter.) Maybe they want alligators in the moat. (Laughter.) They’ll never be satisfied. And I understand that. That’s politics.
Some may be moved by his crocodile tears to swallow the notion that his hands are tied. I have a few words in response: Balderdash. Bunkum. Hogwash. Fiddle-faddle.
Either this president is not the analytical, data-gathering, cooly-decisive and valiant leader portrayed by the media, particularly since the takedown of Osama Bid Laden, or, he is playing politics with people’s lives and “America’s 21st century economy.” There’s no need to repeat previous posts (here, here, here, here, here and there) on his broad executive authority to ameliorate the traumas endured by DREAMers and the other undocumented among us.
The simple fact, known all too well by immigration insiders but rarely reported, is that President Obama could vastly improve America’s competitiveness and stop the flight of foreign talent back to their homelands by reversing or recalibrating several administrative rules or rulings that have long thrown foreign entrepreneurs into the moat with the immigration alligators.
Here are some things that President Obama could accomplish immediately, solely by executive action, to allow existing America’s immigration laws to help create jobs:
- Restore Self-Sponsorship for Working Owners. Since 2010, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has prevented foreign entrepreneurs from receiving an H-1B visa (for workers in specialty occupations). The agency took this action notwithstanding four precedent decisions, Matter of Aphrodite Investments Limited (1980), Matter of Tessel (1980), Matter of Allan Gee, Inc. (1979) and Matter of M– (1958), that allowed a foreign citizen to incorporate a business and use the entity to sponsor the individual’s work visa or green card. The President could easily order USCIS to withdraw the 2010 USCIS memorandum that abruptly strayed from precedent decisions, as the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has urged.
- Restore L-1A Function-Manager Eligibility. The Immigration Act of 1990 (IMMACT) allows managers of essential corporate functions to qualify for an L-1A work visa (for intracompany transferees) and a first preference green card (for multinational managers). Before IMMACT, only managers of personnel could be granted these benefits. USCIS routinely denies function-manager requests by claiming that the person does not manage the particular function but primarily performs the function. This interpretation has rendered the function-manager category a dead letter. Congress had no need to create the function manager classification in IMMACT if subordinate personnel were to be required to perform the function (so that the function manager could manage it) since a people-manager category already existed. To offer a simple example, a corporate controller under the current USCIS interpretation cannot qualify as a function manager unless the person manages other people — something that controllers rarely do. The President can easily remedy this mistaken interpretation by instructing USCIS that managers of key corporate components and functions are eligible for function-manager designation even if the individual also performs the function. This would allow foreign entrepreneurs to create new U.S. businesses and start creating jobs for U.S. workers right away.
- Restore L-1B Specialized-Knowledge Eligibility. The USCIS Office of Public Outreach got an earful of criticism last week from stakeholders urging the agency to revert to longstanding interpretations of eligibility for an L-1B intracompany transferee visa under the specialized knowledge subcategory. In the teleconference, callers explained that the L-1B had been properly interpreted for decades until 2008 when a non-precedent decision of the USCIS Administrative Appeals Office without warning dramatically restricted its interpretation of L-1B specialized knowledge. Here too, the President could swiftly help foreign entrepreneurs create American jobs by restoring their longstanding ability to send key workers with specialized knowledge to the United States.
- Expand Schedule A to include “special-merit” foreign citizens. The Department of Labor (DOL) under its Schedule A regulation has long allowed persons whose skills are in short supply to avoid the labor market test normally required and obtain an employment-based green card. Schedule A now includes registered nurses, physical therapists and persons of exceptional ability. Back in 2002, AILA asked the DOL but the agency refused to expand Schedule A by allowing “special-merit” foreign citizens to immigrate. AILA made this request because the normal labor market rules deprive a wide array of worthy aliens of any opportunity for PERM labor certification. Individuals in the unwelcome category include investors, entrepreneurs and working owners, and foreign-born employees who are “so inseparable from the sponsoring employer because of his or her pervasive presence and personal attributes that the employer would be unlikely to continue in operations without the alien”. Under orders from the President, the expanded use of Schedule A for these special-merit foreign citizens would allow fair consideration of deserving cases that have had little or no access to labor certification under the current system.
- Allow the filing (but not the approval) of green card applications before the visa quota is open. Today, because of quota backlogs and an unfair allocation system, a person born in India holding a university degree, whose employer’s immigrant visa petition has been approved, may have to wait as much as 20 years before being allowed just to file a green card (adjustment of status) application. The wait is only marginally less for those born in China. During that time, the person’s spouse and working-age children ordinarily cannot work, and the children are at risk of “aging-out” — reaching age 21 and thus losing green-card eligibility. What’s worse, if the foreign worker loses his job in the meantime, the whole immigration sponsorship process (if the family involved has the stomach to pursue it) must go back to square one. As much as America may otherwise be attractive to foreign entrepreneurs and key workers, no sane person would find the risk and limitations of these waiting periods enticing. In a New York minute, if he were so inclined, President Obama could make the wait more tolerable. All he’d need to do is instruct USCIS to accept for filing adjustment applications for the beneficiaries of approved immigrant visa petitions and issue a rule freezing the dependent children’s age as of the date of filing the green card application. This way, in the interim until the quota is current, the spouse and working-age children could work or study, and the foreign employee would not be tempted to give up on America, return home and compete against us.
President Obama is no fool. He understands the link between immigration, innovation and job creation, as he explained to the crowd in El Paso:
[O]ur laws discourage [foreign students educated in the U.S.] from using those skills to start a business or a new industry here in the United States. Instead of training entrepreneurs to stay here, we train them to create jobs for our competition. That makes no sense. In a global marketplace, we need all the talent we can attract, all the talent we can get to stay here to start businesses — not just to benefit those individuals, but because their contribution will benefit all Americans.
Look at Intel, look at Google, look at Yahoo, look at eBay. All those great American companies, all the jobs they’ve created, everything that has helped us take leadership in the high-tech industry, every one of those was founded by, guess who, an immigrant. (Applause.)
So we don’t want the next Intel or the next Google to be created in China or India. We want those companies and jobs to take root here. (Applause.) Bill Gates gets this. He knows a little something about the high-tech industry. He said, “The United States will find it far more difficult to maintain its competitive edge if it excludes those who are able and willing to help us compete.”
So immigration is not just the right thing to do. It’s smart for our economy. It’s smart for our economy. (Applause.) And it’s for this reason that businesses all across America are demanding that Washington finally meet its responsibilities to solve the immigration problem.
Why does the President wait for Congress to act when he has his executive pen in his pocket? Why should immediate job creation be held hostage to Washingtonian impasse, when the job-eating immigration alligators under his control can be easily restrained? I’m no politico, but it’s politics, I suppose.