Leaders of more than 120 U.S. companies are speaking out against what they see as an effort to dramatically curb legal immigration into the United States without approval from Congress. At the request of Seattle startup Boundless Immigration, they submitted an open letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security opposing a policy change that could make it harder for immigrants to qualify for green cards and visas.
Seattle-area tech CEOs are well represented among the letter’s signatories, including the leaders of Pioneer Square Labs, Flying Fish Partners, Remitly, Founder’s Co-op, and Amplero. They’re opposing a change that would expand the definition of a “public charge,” making it easier for DHS to reject applications for green cards.
The change, “could make it unlikely or impossible for our companies to hire and retain talented individuals who would otherwise be clearly eligible for an employer-sponsored green card or work visa and would productively contribute to the U.S. economy,” the letter says.
The government has the authority to deny green cards to immigrants who are a “public charge,” historically interpreted to mean dependent on federal assistance. The new policy would expand that definition to immigrants who use “one or more public benefits,” have done so in the past or are likely to do so in the future. Those benefits include food stamps and section 8 housing, as well as healthcare and housing subsidies in many cases.
“Under long-standing federal law, those seeking to immigrate to the United States must show they can support themselves financially,” said DHS Secretary Kirstjen Neilsen in a statement.
Immigration officials will determine the likelihood an applicant will become a public charge in the future based on criteria like health, age, family size, skills, and financial status. Green card applicants would need to show that their household income is at least 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines to qualify. Applicants with household incomes that are at least 250 percent of the federal poverty line will have a significant advantage.
Boundless co-founder Doug Rand called the change a “de facto wealth test” that would “dramatically curtail legal immigration.”
“DHS does not consider the reality that many of our most skilled workers will be compensated with stock options on top of their regular annual income,” the letter says. “It is not uncommon for highly skilled workers at technology companies, for example, to take 20-50 [percent] of their compensation in stock options rather than salary.”
Monday is the final day for the public to comment on the public charge rule. On Monday, Boundless published a report claiming that DHS significantly underestimated the costs associated with the policy change. Boundless estimates that the additional paperwork associated with the new rule could cost up to $13 billion per year.
“We are concerned that DHS is failing to take into consideration essential facts in shaping its new policy, which substantially deviates from its longstanding policy over the past several decades, and which will be harmful to businesses like ours and the U.S. economy overall,” the letter says.