How Immigration Reforms Affect Business Owners

Business owners want to know how the 2013 immigration reforms will affect business. Let’s look at some of the issues and how they will trickle down to middle America and small business, especially high tech start-ups, restaurants and agribusinesses (wineries and vineyards) here in Western NY.

There will be increased border security and the Immigration authorities will employ an enhanced screening system to track all non-citizens who leave the country. There will be stronger prohibitions on racial profiling and excessive use of force in immigration enforcement.

There will be the launch of a legalization program for undocumented immigrants. Undocumented people will register, then pay back taxes and a fine to earn a probationary legal status that will allow them to live and work temporarily in the U.S. (People with a serious criminal history will be ineligible.) Once enforcement measures have been completed, those with probationary legal status must pass background checks, pay taxes, learn English and civics, demonstrate a history of work in the U.S., and have current employment to earn lawful permanent resident status (green card).

Young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents, and those undocumented immigrants working in the U.S. agriculture industry, will be eligible for green cards without fulfilling all of the above criteria. With many undocumented workers in New York, this will open the employee pool for employers, especially for unskilled workers such as those working in food service and agribusiness.

There will be improvement of the legal immigration system to attract the world’s best and brightest talent to the U.S. workforce. The USCIS will reduce the current, long backlogs for people who are legally eligible to immigrate to the U.S. in both the family and employment categories, especially those from China, India, Mexico and the Philippines.

The government will develop a program to grant permanent resident status (green card) to people who graduate from U.S. universities with a master’s or doctoral degree in a STEM discipline (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics). With Rochester having such a strong presence in technology, this is likely to benefit new start-up ventures who can attract top talent from local universities. It may also encourage these talented graduates to initiate their own start-up endeavors here in Rochester.

There will be enhancements to the employment verification process. The current E-verify system has known drawbacks and many are not inclined to use it because it adds a “Big Brother” element that can be used in enforcement proceedings against the employer. The USCIS will improve the E-Verify system to be fast and reliable for employers, to prevent identity theft, and to reduce the ability of unauthorized workers to use false documents. There will be increased penalties against employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants. This will hopefully address the problems with E-verify and allow it to work as intended to simplify the employer verification process so employers can comply with immigration rules.

The new laws will allow employers to hire immigrants if employers can demonstrate they were unsuccessful in recruiting an American to fill an open position (without displacing American workers). This will include unskilled labor, not just technology and executive level labor. Immigration laws will admit more lower-skilled immigrants when the economy is creating jobs and fewer when it is not. In particular, the Immigration Service will create a program to meet the needs of America’s agriculture industry, including dairy, to find workers when Americans are not available to fill open positions. This will open the employee pool for employers, especially for unskilled works such as those working in food service and agribusiness. With the growing wine industry, brewery industry and yogurt industry here in Western New York, this should create a workforce for these key industries for the regional economy.

Immigration reform is always slow and controversial, but the 2013 reforms should benefit Western New York businesses.