USCIS Offers No Help on Resident Unemployment Levels

By David North on March 18, 2010

The director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offered no help at all yesterday regarding the influx of nonimmigrant workers vis-a-vis the current high levels of unemployment in the United States.

The setting was one of the quarterly sessions with "immigration stakeholders" held by Alejandro Mayorkas, the Obama Administration's USCIS director in Washington, D.C., on March 17. The room, on Massachusetts Ave., was full of immigration lawyers and people from immigrant-serving agencies. Much of the session was given over to questions from the floor, and answers from the director.

My question to him was: "Given the millions of U.S. residents who are unemployed, what is your agency doing, actively, to reduce the flow of nonimmigrant workers into the U.S. labor market? I am not talking about refugees, illegal aliens, or legal immigrants, just nonimmigrant workers, such as those in the E, H, and L categories."

He bristled at the question and replied "that is not what we are charged to do."

He could have said, with some accuracy, that his agency's hands are tied by U.S. law; or he could have said that Congress had, to some extent, addressed that question by putting numerical limits on H-1B and H-2A workers, or he could have said (and I do not know that this is true) that the demand for some of these visas had dropped. But he did not, and then quickly moved to the next question.

At this point Dr. Eugene Nelson, the prominent anti-H-1B advocate, thanked Mayorkas for a recent tightening in the H-1B regulations, which he said would be helpful in protecting the rights of U.S. high-tech workers. (Gene and I had NOT worked this out before hand.)

Mayorkas, in his opening remarks, described an internal agency reorganization designed to improve the USCIS operations. He also indicated, in answer to another question, that USCIS has a draft regulation in clearance dealing with an adjustment, presumably an upward adjustment, of USCIS fee levels. The agency is almost entirely dependent on fees to finance its operations.

Speaking of fees, there had been an intriguing exchange between the director and Rep. David Price (D-NC) the previous day at an Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill, the subject of a prior blog. Price reminded the director that the 2007 increase in fees, which had been announced well in advance of its implementation date, brought a flood of applications (and money) to the agency, giving it at one point a cushion of $900 million.

That cushion has now all but disappeared. I found it interesting that Rep. Price raised the matter of the cushion, while the director discussed his worries about the current declines in application levels.