Humanitarian parole for Ukraine refugees

Per the Niskanen Center, the Biden administration implemented today (4/21/22) United For Ukraine, an innovative approach to rapid refugee intake – authorizing households to directly accept Ukrainian refugees, bypassing the conventional channel of central intake and then assignment to one of the many resettlement organizations in the United States. In effect it is a private sponsor-based program, though it might not be formally stated as such.

This is a potentially explosive change in refugee acceptance. Enormous pressure will be put on Washington to expand a privatized refugee system to many comers. For instance, there are today in the United States about 5,000 Banyamulenges from the Democratic Republic of Congo. These people are under threat of genocide. We can expect that many of these people here will privately sponsor their relatives and others for refugee status.

This scenario can apply to any population experiencing refugee characteristics and linked to a population in the United States ready to sponsor. A refugee is one who has suffered “persecution or fear that they will suffer persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”

Go here for an overview of the sources of refugees.

Per the Center, Humanitarian parole is part of the U.S. policy toolkit long used to address emergency situations. Parole gives the administration the authority to admit any individual for a temporary period — up to 2 years — if their admission provides significant public benefit or satisfies an urgent humanitarian need. Beneficiaries of the Ukraine program will be welcomed by a supporter who will help facilitate their transition in the U.S. By tapping fiscal sponsorship as a formal pathway for displaced Ukrainians, the U.S. can welcome refugees into the U.S. in a quick and orderly manner while linking them with Americans who want to help them settle and support them financially.

Parole lasts for a maximum of two years. After it expires, individuals who want to remain in the U.S. must apply for asylum (which may be tricky in its own right), but the current asylum backlog stands at more than 1.6 million cases, meaning these Ukrainians could remain on temporary status for many years while they wait for a decision from the backlogged immigration courts. A more expeditious approach is for Congress to pass legislation that offers permanent status to Ukrainians — similar to the Afghan Adjustment Act now pending in Congress.

Lack of social trust and fear of immigration

A New Republic magazine poll: Improving border security and restricting illegal immigration will “strengthen democracy” Dems 61% Reps 93% will “weaken democracy” Dem 39% Reps 7%

“The possibility of political violence” Dems 81% Reps 61%

“Looking forward to the next 10 or 20 years, do you feel more confident or more worried about the future of democracy in America?” More worried Dems 64% Reps 75%.

The decline of social capital and anti-immigration sentiment:

2020 study: A review of 87 research articles found a statistically significant negative relationship between ethnic diversity, for example due to immigration, and social trust including social trust within groups.

Robert Putnam: One of America’s most respected social scientists, Robert Putnam, studied the social impact of ethnic diversity. The results shocked him so much that he withheld reporting them for years. Fighting his personal pro-immigrant leanings, he concluded, “immigration and ethnic diversity challenge social solidarity and inhibit social capital.” He describes social capital as a collective capacity to spark civic participation and trust, keys to building democracy. In his 2006 lecture, “E Pluribus Unum,” Putnam warned, “The more ethnically diverse a residential context is, the less we trust …” He said the more racially diverse a community, the less trust exists among neighbors. Even trust within groups is lower in more diverse settings.

See my postings here and here.

The Border crisis and young men

NAFTA and is replacement, the USMCA, failed to address guest workers. The border cuts in two one of the world’s largest transnational circular labor labor markets.

An important observation made by Sam Peak in Politico: that the many men are trying to cross the border for work. He writes.

“The overwhelming majority of people who are being expelled under the Title 42 policy haven’t been families seeking asylum, but rather single adults fleeing extreme economic deprivation and in search of work. In February alone, more than 90 percent of Title 42 expulsions were single adults — the vast majority from Mexico.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has acknowledged this reality and urged Biden several times last year to work with him to expand guest worker programs for the U.S., Mexico and the Northern Triangle. Though the Biden Administration recently suggested a willingness to do so, it has not yet provided any details.

It’s critical that Biden’s post-Title 42 strategy includes increased access to guest worker programs.”

Peak calls for reform of the guest worker programs, mainly I surmise the H-2A program for farm workers. (Go here and here.) He says “The program is already riddled with more than 200 time consuming, duplicative and complex rules that shut out many businesses. According to the State Department, the sponsorship process alone costs the average U.S. farmer more than $10,000.”

The large surge of illegal border crossings in the 1970s, which prompted the search for immigration reform leading to the 1986 act, was per Peak due to the ending of the Bracero system of guest workers.

The even greater surge of illegal crossings in the 1990s was due to ineptitude of this 1986 law. (Go here.)

Tech workers flee Russia. Will they come to the U.S.?

Information technology employs a global workforce. A lot of tech workers in Russia are leaving. (I expect this has happened in Ukraine as well.) Where will they land?

The NY Times reports that “by March 22, a Russian tech industry trade group estimated that between 50,000 and 70,000 tech workers had left the country and that an additional 70,000 to 100,000 would soon follow. They are part of a much larger exodus of workers from Russia, but their departure could have an even more lasting impact on the country’s economy.

The exodus will fundamentally change the Russian tech industry, according to interviews with more than two dozen people who are part of the tightknit community of Russian tech workers around the world, including many who left the country in recent weeks. An industry once seen as a rising force in the Russian economy is losing vast swaths of its workers. It is losing many of the bright young minds building companies for the future.”

The United States benefits enormously from the global nature of technical talent. The trends since the 1990s have been favorable.

The United States has a large lead over all other countries in top-tier AI research, with nearly 60% of top-tier researchers working for American universities and companies. The US lead is built on attracting international talent, with more than two-thirds of the top-tier AI researchers working in the United States having received undergraduate degrees in other countries.

In 1994, there were 6.2 U.S.-born workers for every foreign-born worker in science and engineering occupations. By 2006, the ratio was 3.1 to 1.

The enemy of our harvesting this talent is ourselves. 200,000 Green cards were wasted, unused, in FY 2021, due to inefficiencies within the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Also go here.

Reducing the immigration backlogs

“Because roughly 97% of USCIS’s revenue comes from user fees, applicants are essentially paying for the wall of regulations that prevent them from working and staying in the U.S…. A fiscally prudent and responsive USCIS is the backbone for all immigration reform and must be a primary objective for both Congress and the president.” (from here

On March 29, the Administration said it would do the following:

Hire more staff and further modernize its processes using technology to meet new processing time goals.

[Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General wrote in December 2021, “USCIS’ primary operational challenge, however, was its continued reliance on paper files to process and deliver benefits. USCIS had limited capability to electronically process more than 80 types of benefits, which still required some manual workflows and paper files to complete cases.’]

Allow premium processing for more visa types, giving applicants the option to pay between $1,500 and $2,500 in additional fees to expedite their applications. Premium processing is currently only available for H-1 work permit applications and some employment-based green cards.

Increase the automatic extension period for work permit renewals, providing relief for hundreds of immigrants stuck in limbo as they wait for permission to work. Work permits generally valid for 2 years have to be renewed.

the H-1B program and the growth of the Indian IT sector

The H-1B skilled worker temporary visa program started in 1952, Today’s version was launched in 1990 with a cap of 65,000 visas (for up to six years). The visa was established for workers in a “specialty occupation”. The Immigration Act defined a specialty occupation as “an occupation that requires theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge, and attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree in the specific specialty (or its equivalent) as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States”. The cap was raised in 2001 to 195,000, soon returned to 65,000, with some exemptions to the cap. For a description, go here and here.

From a study of the impact of H-1B visas on the Indian and U.S. workforces:

Not only did the H-1B program play a significant role in spreading the IT boom from the U.S. to India but it also affected workers’ choice of occupations in each country, and on average made workers in each country better off.

In 1994, the fraction of foreigners in U.S. computer science occupations was 9% but rose to 24% by 2012, almost entirely driven by Indians. By 2014, 70% of all H-1B visas were acquired by Indians. [Lack of English proficiency explains why only 5% of H-1B visas have gone to Chinese.] Computer science wages are at least 4-10 times higher in the US than in India.

The H-1B visas also expired after six years, and many workers return, bringing with them newly acquired skills, connections and technical knowhow. Over time, this has facilitated a shift in production from the US to India, and eroded the US’s advantage in IT exports. Every good valued by consumers can either be produced in the US, India or somewhere else in the world and consumers will buy from the most efficient producer. India and the US are therefore competing to sell their goods to a larger share of the world market.

We find that the H-1B programme played a rather significant role in spreading the IT boom from the US to India. The possibility of moving to the US encouraged Indian workers and students to acquire skills valued abroad, and along with those that returned from abroad, they contributed to growing the CS workforce in India. This facilitated a movement in tech production from the US to India: Indian IT output is higher by 5 percent in 2010, even as US IT output shrinks.

This hurts some US workers, especially US-born computer scientists who now switch into non-CS occupations, lowering the size of the native CS workforce by 9 percent in 2010. Overall, however, world IT output is larger by 0.45 percent and the combined income of both countries is higher by 0.35 percent (or about US$17.6 billion) because of the H-1B programme. We find that the average worker in both the US and India is better off with immigration.

From an interview with Arvind Subramanian, former Chief Economic Advisor to the Government of India:

“The IT-services revolution owes to an accidental sequence of events, including the relaxation of US immigration restrictions in the 1960s and expansion of the H-1B visas subsequently, the early investment in India’s educational centers of excellence (the famous technology and management schools, IITs and IIMs, respectively) and English language proficiency (the colonial inheritance). When the IT revolution occurred, Indian talent had acquired not just a foothold but also a reputation in the US which then gave comfort to US firms to tap the English-language speaking talent pool back in India. “

Global Skills Partnerships

Addressing demographic imbalances and future migration pressure….I wrote about imbalances and the U.S. workforce in 2009 and in 2021. Global Skills Partnerships can address this.

An example using healthcare workers:

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by 2030, the global shortage of healthcare workers will reach 14.5 million people. While all countries are facing shortages, the composition of these shortages is different. For example, many African countries need more primary care nurses, and many European countries need aged-care nurses. Promoting more training and migration in these areas is one way to increase the global stock of health workers.

Example of a partnership between Morocco and Belgium:

This project is called PALIM and is currently in the pilot stage. They are training 120 people in specific Information and communication technology skills in need in both Belgium and Morocco. 40 have chosen to join the “away” track and will move to the Flanders region of Belgium, and the other 80 will stay in Morocco. They are now looking to expand the programme to 400 trainees across Morocco and Tunisia, and have spoken about similar projects in Guinea and the Gambia.

Continuing rise in immigration backlog

I reported here that at the end of FY 2021 (Sept 30), there was a visa backlog of 8 million. According to the Migration Policy Institute, this backlog as of late February 2022 as 9.5 million.

The MPI says that USCIS remains archaically reliant on paper applications and records, the staffing is too low, in part because visa processing is financed by applicant fees, not. General revenue, reliance on in-person vs video interviews. Delays have crippled both family and work-based visa processing.

And, immigration court backlogs increased from 438 days in 2008 to 696 days in FY 2019. Pending court cases went from 200,000 in 2008 to 1.6 million today.

New fast track asylum system

Within 60 days the Administration will implement a new policy of having asylum cases handled by asylum officers instead of immigration judges. The policy was submitted for public review in mid 2021. It will take some time to hire up in order to have an impact, as there are 670,000 pending asylum cases. In FY 2021 perhaps 60,000 cases were resolved.

This new system is supposed to resolve an application within six months, as opposed to years. I have noted before that the backlog problem is similar to the border control problems on the Mexican border and the Special Immigrant Visas for Afghan translators: the growth of an elephantine mass of legal processes which top executives in the State Department and DHS don’t really care much about compared to other priorities. (here and here.)

The expected elimination of Title 42 removals from the border will further add to the asylum application backlog.

46.6 million immigrants now

The 46.6 million immigrants (foreign-born, legal and illegal) in the country in January 2022 is the largest number recorded in any government survey or decennial census going back to 1850.

The Immigrant Share of the Population. In January 2022, immigrants represented 14.2 percent of the nation’s total population — the highest percentage in 112 years. The immigrant share of the population has nearly doubled since 1990 (7.9 percent) and tripled since 1970 (4.7 percent).

From the Center for Immigration Studies.