December 4, 2018
Mr. Mark Phillips, Residence and Naturalization Division Chief
Office of Policy and Strategy, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Department of Homeland Security
20 Massachusetts NW
Washington, DC 20529–2140
Re: RIN 1615–AA22, Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds
Dear Mr. Phillips,
On behalf of the members of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition (EWIC), we would like to submit these comments on RIN-1615-AA22, a notice of proposed rulemaking on the inadmissibility of certain visa holders based on their likelihood to become a public charge.
EWIC represents employers in a broad swath of the service, construction, healthcare and food processing industries. For over two decades, EWIC members have advocated for changes and improvements to the U.S. immigration and visa systems to better reflect the marketplace needs of the U.S. economy. Our industries frequently depend on foreign-born workers to supplement our U.S. workforce, and this dependence has increasingly become vital to the continuing productivity of our sectors, as demographic changes to the U.S. workforce make our jobs much harder to fill.
The proposed rule on the Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds is being introduced to assist in the regulation of the immigration process and to purportedly help in screening out those who would not contribute to the U.S. workforce and economy but would be a drain on the economy. The goal is appreciated, but the method is severely flawed.
For decades, U.S. policies on foreign-born temporary worker programs, as well as other visa programs and permanent legal permanent resident pipelines, has been biased against workers in our industries, with policymakers refusing to create a level playing field for these categories of foreign-born workers within U.S. policy. We believe that the proposed rule is another example of the federal government failing to recognize the importance of the contributions made by foreign-born workers in our industries – which cannot usually “offshore” our productivity and must rely on workers based in the U.S. to fulfill our roles in the economy. We believe that the structure of the public charge rule would unfairly be applied to workers in our industries because their work categories are defined as “low-skilled” by the federal government thus making their wage rates and financial status subject to extra scrutiny under the rule.
The agency should not be promulgating regulations without fully appreciating the current and future impact. Indeed, this Administration made it a key goal to deregulate, lighten the burden on the regulated population and to judiciously promulgate new regulations. This proposed rule is not necessary. There is no concrete evidence that immigrants are increasingly “gaming the system” to take public benefits and become dependent on government programs/public charges. The current law, regulations and guidance seems to be more than adequate.
More troubling though, is the fact that the U.S. has a worker shortage. Our members are continually recruiting to fill critical positions at all levels and are not able to meet our workforce needs. In addition, we have been informed that many critical workers that are currently working in our industries, particularly those that are in TPS or DACA status will soon no longer be work authorized. Implementing a rule at this time of economic growth and low unemployment without evidence that the current methodologies for determining who might become a public charge would be reckless, counterintuitive and against the Administration’s stated agenda.
Some specific concerns with the proposed rule include as follows:
- It would require USCIS to look at the acceptance of public assistance as definitive evidence of an individual’s likelihood of becoming a public charge.
- It is too vague in how USCIS should determine who is “likely” to become a public charge.
- The rule fails to provide for input from a key player in the Administration of immigration laws – the State Department.
- The rule fails to address the costs to employers and small businesses of potentially excluding current workers from the workforce.
- The use of the FICO credit score is an inappropriate use of that tool. It was designed for lenders and most likely would not include a large portion of the intended population.
We appreciate that the proposed rule has been narrowed from previous drafts with a number of categories of visa holders exempted from these additional requirements. We also recognize that the rule requires reviewers to focus on the totality of circumstances in each case. However, we believe that the structure of the rule will significantly disadvantage many of the workers on whom we rely. We are concerned that the rule will scare foreign-born workers away from our industries for fear that their workforce participation in the government-defined “low-skilled” sectors – job positions in the economy which the government has determined do not require a 4-year college degree – will harm their chances of extending their visas, or transitioning their status. Their concern will be that the government will more easily make the case that simply being employed in low-skilled sectors may eventually make a worker more likely to rely in part on some forms of public assistance in the future.
At a time when our industries are struggling with labor shortages and skills gaps in almost every major market, we are concerned with any government rulemaking effort that will discourage foreign-born workers from contributing to our workforce. The reality of U.S. worker demographics – with the aging of the current workforce, the greater numbers of U.S. workers with college degrees that make them less likely to take jobs in our industry, and the low U.S. birthrate – means that our nation must take seriously the vital contribution that is made by foreign-born workers to ensuring that our industries can continue to be productive and create jobs for other U.S. workers. We urge the Department to take into account the important contributions of these workers in our economy and not create another layer of bias against the workforce in our industries.
The Members of the EWIC Coalition