Trump and Biden’s fight over legal immigration is just beginning

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters aboard Air Force One while returning to Washington from Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S. May 30, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

NEW YORK – Trump’s overt anti-illegal immigrant stance that thrust him into the limelight in the Republican primaries and eventually helped him emerge winner in the 2016 Presidential elections, is again at the forefront of his re-election campaign, in November. This time around, though, the focus and fight could be a lot more on legal immigration, with Democratic party nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden providing a stark contrast to the President’s nationalistic and populist policies.

Biden made it clear this week he’s opposed to restrictions on skilled work visas imposed by the President; that he would overturn recent executive order suspensions, and make efforts to make it easier for immigrants caught in a backlog to get a Green Card.

The Democratic party has been in a bind since the last elections over how to approach the controversial issue of immigration. If appearing too liberal in allowing more immigrants in, would upset undecided voters who are worried about the economy and jobs for natives and their future generations, in battleground states.

However, that seemed to be far from Biden’s mind, at a digital town hall meeting on Asian American and Pacific Islander issues organized by NBC News, earlier this week. He made it clear that he supported the H-1B work visa and would remove immediately the suspension imposed by Trump on that visa, till 2021.

“He (Donald Trump) just ended H-1B visas the rest of this year. That will not be in my administration,” Biden said, responding to a question during the town hall, adding for good measure in a nod to entrepreneurs and tech honchos like Elon Musk and Sundar Pichai, “The people coming on these [H-1B] visas have built this country.”

Biden also promised to “make it easier for qualified green card holders to move through this backlog”. It’s an issue especially important for skilled visa workers from India, some of whom may be eligible for permanent residency after 100 years or more, going by some estimates of wait time to clear the backlog.

“On day one, I’m going to send the legislation for an immigration reform bill to Congress to provide a roadmap to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants who contribute so much to this country, including 1.7 million AAPI people,” Biden said, at the town hall meeting.

Biden also pitched in his support for ‘Dreamers’, who recently got a reprieve from the Supreme Court, but are in danger of being deported from the country if the Trump administration appeals down the road, and the decision is eventually reversed.

“My immigration policy is built around keeping families together, modernizing the immigration system by keeping families [together], unification, and diversity as pillars of our immigration system, which it used to be,” Biden said.

“Ending Trump’s cruel, inhumane policy at the border to rip children from their mothers’ arms,” he said. “Take immediate action to protect [younger illegals] Dreamers — including the more than 100,000 eligible Dreamers from East and South Asia.”

Biden’s outlook on legal immigration comes as a new study released by a California based financial firm, Stilt, analyzes that an estimated three million H-1B visa holders contribute hundreds of billions of dollars to their adopted homeland, and are drivers of the local and national economy.

Stilt built their analysis after tracking transaction data from 3,336 loan applications of H-1B visa holders between January 1, 2019 and May 31, 2020.

“There’s a great deal of focus on what immigrants (including H-1B visa holders) supposedly take away from the US, but the undeniable truth is that they’re building this country,” wrote Frank Gogol, content manager of Stilt, in the study. “Whether it’s creating jobs and leading the charge in the development of new technologies that bolster the US economy, it’s H-1B visa holders doing the work.”

According to the report, H-1B visa holders currently working in the US contribute upwards of $85 billion in taxes annually, with $27.1 billion per year drafted towards Social Security and Medicare, which they are not eligible for.

Stilt’s data show that H-1B visa-holders in the US spent no less than an average of $2,130.65 per month in the 17 months starting in January 2019, with the exception of May 2020, noted Quartz India. Spending by all H-1B workers in the US amounts to a total of more than $76 billion annually.

The Stilt study says the average total local spending per H-1B visa holder was $1,588 per month. H-1B workers together spend over $57 billion on local businesses each year. Also, the average investment of an H-1B visa-holder into businesses in the US is $4,025.09 annually, as per the study, with the overall contribution of all H-1B visa-holder into that arena a sizeable amount, at over $12 billion.

While Biden seems to be wooing a segment of foreign residents in America who will no doubt be heartened by his comments, the fact remains that H-1B workers and their dependents are not voters.

Trump, in stark contrast, is wooing his core base with a hard stance on all immigration, invoking nationalism. He has gone about systematically grounding legal immigration, with a series of executive orders in the past few months, including suspensions on work visas and Green Cards.

Now, comes the promise of harsher stipulations in the pipeline, which will make it much harder for an immigrant to qualify for an H-1B visa.

The Trump administration in its Spring 2020 action plan focuses on ending work permits for certain H-4 visa holders, who number around 100,000 in the US, later this year. They also want to put further restrictions on H-1B visas, by scrutinizing salary levels for that class of visa, with the intention to only allow skilled immigrants who attract high salaries, from reputable companies.

Also, on the revision block by Trump, is the Optional Practical Training program (OPT), utilized by international students on an F-1 visa. Details were not forthcoming in the action plan, but rumors have swirled for weeks now that conservative hawks in the administration want to pare down the work permit for OPT to the bare minimum of one year, with only some top students getting a work permit.

If so, this would be a huge departure for the liberal three-year work permits doled out at present for many F-1 visa students, who qualify under STEM subjects.

Importantly, for Trump, such limitations on legal immigration would refurbish his credentials of a master of economic and native populism, dear to his base of supporters.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)



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