Trump doesn’t want skilled immigrants either

Last week I pointed out the fallacy that Trump only objects to illegal immigration, and is just trying to uphold US laws. (Not only is he separating families that have legally applied for asylum, he’s also going after legal immigrants who are trying to gain citizenship by volunteering for the military, and looking for excuses to void the citizenship of naturalized citizens.)

This week I want to expose another fallacy: Trump just wants a better class of immigrants, people with skills rather than the uneducated and desperate poor, who will just come here and go on welfare. In a speech to Congress a month after he took office, he said:

Nations around the world, like Canada, Australia and many others, have a merit-based immigration system. It’s a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially. Yet, in America, we do not enforce this rule, straining the very public resources that our poorest citizens rely upon. According to the National Academy of Sciences, our current immigration system costs American taxpayers many billions of dollars a year. [1]

But no, he doesn’t want skilled immigrants either, even if they are brought here by a company that wants to employ them. The RAISE Act, which the administration supported, would have favored immigrants its point system defined as meritorious, but would also have cut legal immigration in half. It’s arguable whether a high-merit immigrant is more or less likely to get in under those rules. But other rules are unambiguously negative for such people.

Jennifer Minear is a lawyer who consults with companies trying to bring in skilled workers on H-1B visas. In this interview, she describes how the US Citizenship and Immigration Services has changed its rules to harass and discourage such workers, as well as foreign students, whose tuition supports some of our top universities and who sometimes go on to found successful American companies that employ native-born citizens. According to new regulations, she says:

USCIS will issue a Notice to Appear on its own initiative and thereby place individuals in removal proceedings upon denial of an application or petition for immigration benefits if the person is deemed removable at the time of the denial. … Previously, if an application or petition for immigration benefits were to be denied, the foreign national might be able to depart the U.S. relatively quickly and either remain abroad or obtain approval for another visa that would enable him or her to return to the U.S. However, once an individual is issued a Notice to Appear, he or she is legally obligated to remain in the U.S. and appear before an immigration judge. … For most people, being placed in proceedings is a legal limbo where you are not lawfully present, yet not able to leave without triggering a bar on re-entry, and not able to work legally.

So suppose you’re a software designer from India who has an H-1B visa to work at, say, Google, and you apply for an extension. The backlog at USCIS might prevent the extension from going through before your visa expires. If your application is denied (more and more are, under Trump), you get an NTA. Now you’re in limbo until your deportation hearing: You can’t work, you can’t leave, and if you’re deported it will be harder for you to ever get a visa to come back.

If you’re a foreign student, your visa might get cancelled because your school screws up its paperwork. [2] An NTA might be your first notice that something is wrong. So you also wind up in limbo.

Minear concludes that many talented foreigners will hear horror stories like these and conclude that they don’t want to risk coming to the United States at all.

I think this policy memo represents another piece of a well-organized and systematic effort by the current administration to make the process of legal immigration to the United States as difficult as possible for both immigrants and the employers who sponsor them. … I fear that this policy, combined with others previously announced, will discourage the best and brightest minds from around the world from wanting to come to our country and contribute to our economy and culture. Indeed, that appears to be the intent of these policies – to frustrate and frighten people enough that they will not even attempt to navigate the process of coming here legally.

Other countries, especially developing countries, have long complained of a “brain drain” as their best minds pursue opportunities in the US. But under Trump, it appears we are planning to put a stopper in that drain ourselves. USCIS has also proposed

to rescind the final rule published in the Federal Register on January 17, 2017. The final rule established a program that would allow for consideration of parole into the United States, on case-by-case basis, of certain inventors, researchers, and entrepreneurs who had established a U.S. start-up entity, and who had been awarded substantial U.S. investor financing or otherwise hold the promise of innovation and job creation through the development of new technologies or the pursuit of cutting edge research.

So even if you are in the middle of starting a job-creating company here, you can’t come. The same document proposes a change that Stuart Anderson (who was the interviewer in the Minear article) describes like this:

Another more direct worry is the Trump administration has published its intention to restrict the ability of international students to work after graduation on Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows for 12 months of work for students. OPT in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields allows for an additional 24 months of work. Educators say OPT makes a U.S. education more practical and “real world.”

Anderson notes that international students have already started to avoid the US. There was a 4% drop in international enrollment between 2016 and 2017, with a 6% drop in graduate students in science and engineering, and a 21% drop in graduate students in science and engineering from India. This is a problem for US students and universities, not just foreigners, because foreign students are often cash cows that allow universities to provide more services to Americans.

About 90% of U.S. universities have a majority of international students among full-time enrollees in graduate level computer science and electrical engineering. If the number of international students in those fields declines significantly, then there will be fewer such programs available for U.S. students. Moreover, professors who rely on graduate students to conduct research are likely to relinquish their positions and pursue employment at companies, reducing the role of U.S. universities as a center of basic research.

So economically, the new Trump policies are probably destroying more opportunities for native-born Americans than they create. What’s the point of them, then? Perhaps it has something to do with what Trump claimed about European immigration this week in an interview with the English newspaper The Sun:

I think what has happened to Europe is a shame. Allowing the immigration to take place in Europe is a shame. I think it changed the fabric of Europe and, unless you act very quickly, it’s never going to be what it was and I don’t mean that in a positive way. So I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad. I think you are losing your culture. Look around. You go through certain areas that didn’t exist ten or 15 years ago.

WaPo’s Philip Bump points out that “culture” is white nationalist code for race.

That argument — that immigration changes existing “culture” for the worse — is a staple of white nationalist rhetoric in the United States. Trump has never explicitly argued that immigration is a threat to white Americans, but he’s made numerous comments in the past that tiptoe around that point.

I don’t usually use the same cartoon two weeks in a row, but this one is perhaps even more on-point this week than it was last week.


[1] The EconoFact web site disputes this claim:

The evidence does not suggest that current immigrant flows cost native-born taxpayers money over the long-run nor does it provide support for the notion that lowering immigration quotas or stepping up enforcement of existing immigration laws would generate savings to existing taxpayers.

NPR’s Joel Rose looked up the study that Trump seemed to be quoting, and noted that it doesn’t really support his claim either.

Trump appears to be referring to this study published last year by the National Academy of Sciences. It found that “the impact of immigration on the wages of native-born workers overall is very small.” The study also found that first-generation immigrants are more costly to state and local governments. But the children of immigrants, on the other hand, are among the “strongest economic and fiscal contributors in the U.S. population, contributing more in taxes than either their parents or the rest of the native-born population.”

[2] Former INS associate commission Paul Virtue explains:

The key difference between the new policy and that established in September 1997 [in a memo Virtue wrote] is that under the new policy the date on which a person begins to accrue unlawful presence is not tied to an official determination. Therefore, an individual may learn only after the fact that he or she has already accrued months of unlawful presence and is left with no recourse for avoiding the 3- and 10-year bars to admission.

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