2020: A Year In Review

Posted on Dec 14, 2020 by Chris Prescott

Well, I don’t think anyone saw 2020 coming.  It was a turbulent year, what with the raging pandemic and the countless restrictive immigration measures enacted by the Trump administration.  In fact, for the Immigration Community, the last 4 years have been some of the most challenging that we have ever seen as the President did everything in his power to cut back Immigration.

Over the last 4 years the Trump administration enacted over 400 restrictive Immigration measures, ranging from Travel bans, a new Public charge rule, attempts to increase fees and change the overall H-1B program, including a massive hike in H-1B worker wages.

As the government attempts to transition to a new administration under Biden, the Immigration Community waits to see what the Immigration landscape will look like.  No doubt it will look a lot more favorable than what we have seen in past years.  Using the Pandemic as an excuse the Trump administration ramped up its attempts to curtail Immigration on a much larger scale in 2020.

Below are just some of the measures taken by the Trump administration that has had a profound effect on the Immigration Community:

February 2020, Public Charge Rule

This rule targets low- income and low skilled individuals, making it far more difficult for them to become green card holders based on a prospective determination that an applicant may become a public charge.  This rule has been the subject of numerous lawsuits, some Judges declaring it an unlawful rule, while others allowing the Trump administration to enforce it.

April and June 2020 Proclamations

President Trump signed two proclamations effectively suspending the entry of immigrants and certain non-immigrants, including H-1Bs, into the US, until the end of the year, except for those falling into one of the narrow exceptions  The combination of both proclamations seriously limited the admission of individuals into the U.S. based on the false claim that their admission would affect the ability of US workers to regain employment.

July F-1/M-1 rule

SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) announced without warning that students taking a full online course load in the fall semester were not allowed to remain in the US.  This rule wreaked havoc on schools and students, having the potential to force many students to abandon their studies and leave the U.S.  However, the Federal Courts stepped in, and  prevented the administration from enforcing the rule.

July Fee increases

Claiming that the current fees did not cover the cost of the adjudication process USCIS attempted to increase its filing fees, with some petitions seeing an 83% increase.  Fortunately, a Federal Judge granted a preliminary injunction, so those fees never saw the light of day.

Changes to the H-1B program

Both DOL and DHS introduced new rules, which threatened to completely eliminate the H-1B program.  The DOL rule which took effect, without any notice, significantly increased the H-1B wages, making it almost impossible for Employers to continue filing amendments and extensions.  The DHS rule attempted to change the definition of specialty occupation, change the definition of the Employer/Employee relationship and limit approvals for IT staffing companies to just 1 year.  Both rules have been struck down in Federal Court.

Finally, the Trump administration is attempting to change the H-1B lottery process by ensuring that H-1Bs only go to the highest-paid.  Whether this rule goes into effect will undoubtedly be decided by the Courts.

Good news this year

Despite the above restrictions, there was also some good news.  USCIS was forced to rescind two of its memos, both of which USCIS has used as a basis to increase the number of RFEs and denials.  As a result, Employers saw a massive increase in approvals this year.

Perhaps the best news was the forward movement in dates, especially for Indian Nationals under the EB-3 employment-based category after the release of the October visa bulletin.  This development allowed many applicants to file for adjustment and take advantage of the employment authorization.

What does the future hold?

If 2020 has taught us anything it is that none of us can predict the future.   Although Biden can issue proclamations to reverse some of the damage which Trump has done, some rules will require the new administration to go through the formal rulemaking process, which will take time.

Overall, the Immigration landscape will look a lot more favorable, however, we will need to be patient and allow Biden and his administration to take the necessary steps to undo 4 years’ worth of work.