Trump's Skills-Based Immigration Plan on Track for 2020

Cuccinelli confident that H-1B registration tool will be ready for next filing season

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer November 5, 2019
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​The U.S. immigration system is first and foremost for the benefit of the United States, said Kenneth Cuccinelli II, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), who sought to define the Trump administration's approach to immigration.

Speaking at SHRM's Global Mobility and Immigration Symposium in Washington, D.C., Cuccinelli said that President Donald Trump's plan to reshape the U.S. immigration selection system to give greater preference to green card applicants' skills over their family ties not only makes the country more competitive, but also prioritizes the needs of employers and the talent they seek.

The president's initial plan called for raising the percentage of employment-related immigrants—who include workers' dependent family members—from 12 percent annually to 57 percent and cutting back family-sponsored immigration from about 66 percent per year to 30 percent.

"Our approach is that the purpose of the immigration system is to improve the U.S. economy and the American experience first," he said. "It's not for the benefit of immigrants first. They're beneficiaries, and we're happy to have them as beneficiaries. It's a balance that we're wrestling with."

Cuccinelli said he understands employers' need to recruit and hire foreign national workers to fill skills gaps in the U.S. "With U.S. unemployment at a historic low, you're going to have a tight labor market. But at the same time, we want wages to go up for U.S. workers, and we want to encourage Americans to go into high-demand industries. If we're going to fill every gap with foreign national workers, we're going to depress wages for U.S. workers."

Cuccinelli shared his thoughts in a discussion moderated by Austin Fragomen, founder and chairman of Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, a global immigration law firm based in New York City.

Addressing Employer Concerns

One obstacle to adopting a skills-based system similar to ones used by other countries is the fear that employers will lose the ability to select the workers they want for green card sponsorship. The government would take on the responsibility of selecting the most-qualified applicants based on a set of criteria. Cuccinelli said the Trump administration is working to accommodate employers in this regard.

H-1B Registration in 2020

Cuccinelli said that the USCIS' new online H-1B cap registration tool is still being tested, but he is confident that it will be ready before the next filing season begins in early 2020.

"The only remaining issue is system testing to make sure that we can handle the anticipated load," he said. SHRM members are taking part in testing the new system.

Under the new H-1B cap registration system, employers seeking to file H-1B cap cases would first be required to register online to enter the H-1B lottery. Employers would then be permitted to file full petitions only for registrations that are selected in the lottery, which they would file with USCIS during a period of at least 90 days.

A rule finalizing a new $10 registration fee required at the time of submission for each H-1B cap registration will be published this week, Cuccinelli said.

Process Efficiencies

The acting director was asked about the agency's notoriously long processing times and increased requests for evidence to approve visa requests.

"We are a paper-based agency," Cuccinelli responded. "Most of our work is still done on paper—well over 80 percent of filings are paper filings."

He said that USCIS is continuing to move forms online and expects that all major forms will be electronic by the end of 2020. "That will dramatically allow us to increase speed, allow for faster reviews and generate less requests for evidence, because petitioners can correct simple filing errors quickly."

He added that the agency does experience manpower shortages during certain times and has redistributed the incoming workload across processing centers.

Cuccinelli also noted that the perception of the agency as primarily a transactional processing center "like the Department of Motor Vehicles" is not accurate. "First, we're a vetting agency," he said. "Our first role is protecting the United States and the integrity of the immigration system. In the meantime, we issue the benefits and do it as efficiently as we can. We're behind where we should be but taking steps and working hard to catch up."

Modernization of E-Verify

Cuccinelli commented on another renovation project currently in the works: the modernization of the federal government's electronic employment-verification system.

"We are making some fairly robust changes to E-Verify," he said. One of those changes includes setting up digital credentials for workers "so they can carry a lot of the work."

Job seekers would be able to precertify themselves through the system and address tentative nonconfirmations, taking some of the administrative burden from employers.

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