Several immigration programs that have authorized over a million immigrant workers are expected to end in 2018 and 2019. The cancellation of these programs will terminate employment eligibility for these workers, making most of them deportable. The loss of these legally authorized workers is likely to destabilize many employers’ workforce and disrupt the economy as a whole.
The most publicized termination is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an Obama administration executive action that protected undocumented immigrants from deportation if they came to the U.S. under the age of 16 and before June 15, 2007. Eligible applicants could not have been older than 30 when the Department of Homeland Security enacted the policy in 2012. Those approved were able to get renewable two-year permits to work and study in the U.S.
Nearly 91 percent of the 800,000 DACA recipients (commonly called Dreamers) are employed. Some studies report that eliminating DACA would cost $433.4 billion in GDP and reduce Social Security and Medicare tax contributions by $24.6 billion over a decade. More immediately, if no solution is found for the DACA workers and the businesses that employ them, the end of DACA will disrupt many businesses and industries to some extent, particularly the health care industry where roughly 20 percent of DACA immigrants are employed.
The Trump administration has also announced the end of temporary protected status (TPS) for nearly 300,000 legal workers, subjecting them to deportation as well. TPS authorizes nationals of countries that have suffered war, an epidemic, natural disasters, or other disasters to live and work in the U.S. legally until conditions improve sufficiently in their countries. TPS is granted only to those who are already in the U.S. at the time of disaster. These protections for over 200,000 nationals of El Salvador and 60,000 nationals of Haiti are set to end in 2019.
According to the Center for American Progress (CAP), TPS workers are employed in varieties of sectors, including construction and hospitality industries.
CAP estimates that the removal of these workers would create a loss of $164 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) over the next decade and result in a $6.9 billion reduction to Social Security and Medicare contributions over a decade, as calculated by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
Importantly, employers would experience $967 million in turnover costs dues to loss of TPS workers.
Not surprisingly, the administration has announced plans to terminate the H-4 EAD program, which permits certain spouses of H-1B workers to apply for employment authorization documents (EADs). The termination procedure is expected to be announced in February 2018. Initiated in 2015 by the Obama administration, some spouses of H-1B workers are eligible to apply for employment authorization if they hold H-4 status and their H-1B spouse (1) has an approved Form I-140 immigrant worker petition or (2) has received a one-year extension of H-1B status beyond their sixth year based on a filed I-140 or labor certification.
An estimated 100,000 H-4 EAD workers will be affected by the cancellation of the program. As long as the H-1B spouse is employed, these workers will be allowed to legally remain in the U.S. However, they cannot work unless eligible for another work visa.
Employers who have valued DACA, TPS, or H-4 EAD employees should talk to a lawyer about possible options. A qualified immigration lawyer can evaluate whether the employee has other legal opportunities to get temporary or permanent status, such as an H-1B visa or green card, through their employment with the company. For example, if an employer has difficulty finding workers with an employee’s skill set, it could apply for labor certification through the Department of Labor and DHS if the employee’s immigration history warrants it.
Employers should advocate for commonsense immigration laws that fix the current immigration system and reflect the global economy and workforce. Congress can and should offer a permanent solution that meets the needs of our society, our economy, our businesses, and our workers.
Ann Massey Badmus leads the immigration section of Scheef & Stone, LLP. Since 1993, Ann has helped U.S. businesses cut through immigration red tape and execute leading-edge hiring strategies to win the global competition for top talent. She is a frequent commentator on immigration law for national and local television and radio news programs. She has published numerous articles and has authored a book for foreign national physicians, titled Immigration Prescription: The Practical Guide to Immigration for Foreign Born Physicians. Ann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.