Essential Foreign Workers Key To Pandemic Relief And U.S. Recovery

Essential foreign workers in America are not only a key to an orderly life under the conditions created by the Covid-19 virus, but also could be a key to a robust recovery once the country overcomes the pandemic. Passing an immigration initiative to recruit and keep the critical personnel that have helped the economy function during the crisis would be a welcome step to take at this stage in the process. Indeed, America would do well to follow a policy similar to the one Canada just announced dealing with immigrants currently in that country in a legitimate temporary status by opening up a means for them to obtain permanent resident status under a temporary program.

Like Canada did, the U.S. should target foreign nationals who are currently employed and who have at least one year of work experience in the United States in an essential occupation, in recognition of their economic contribution and in acknowledgement of the ongoing need that America has for these professionals. Since these individuals are already employed, a new measure favoring them would not be taking away jobs from American workers. Furthermore, since they are essential workers already in the country, they should be a priority group worth targeting. America should also be offering international students graduating from American colleges the chance to apply for permanent residence as well. That is what Canada is doing.

Canadian Example

The requirements under the Canadian program are that the foreign workers must be working in an eligible occupation. The list of eligible occupations includes a wide range of health care occupations, animal health technologists and veterinary technicians, and occupations in education, law and social, community and government services. They also must be legally in Canada, and present in Canada when selected. They must not have been self-employed, except for doctors. They must have a basic knowledge of English or French. There is a maximum cap of 50,000 such workers to be chosen.

There is also a provision to allow 40,000 international students who have graduated from Canadian universities to apply for permanent residence as well. A similar provision in the new program enables close family members who are in Canada but from a foreign country to be sponsored to stay permanently in the country if sponsored by a Canadian family member. No cap is mentioned in these cases.

All foreign nationals in Canada applying under the new program must not be inadmissible due to criminal or health matters. All applications are to be made online and must include proof of all eligibility factors in the materials submitted and include payment of all fees applicable. The program closes at the end of a six month period after which no applications will be accepted. Immigration officers are given discretion to waive some eligibility factors for good cause when necessary.

What About The U.S.?

It’s not like the United States has abandoned its foreign workers. On the contrary, President Biden has introduced measures to be enacted to address problems like the Dreamers and foreign farm workers. His comprehensive immigration reform package is currently being debated in Washington, including his proposed pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. The initiatives Biden has taken fully to recognize the critical role immigrants and even undocumented workers have been playing in essential services – the workers doing care giving, gardening, farming – the foreign workers involved in food production, in transportation, in health care and in cleaning. They are targeted in Biden’s efforts.

Dealing With External Factors

Biden recognizes the hopelessness, lawlessness and even climate change elements that are driving the exodus of peoples from the Northern Triangle of countries in Central America, that is to say Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, to the southern border of the United States. Responding to these challenges, he has assigned Vice President Harris to deal with that element. He is paying close attention to the migration of young people northward and their conditions at the border facilities. And he is aware of the decline of international student enrolment and their conversion to U.S. permanent residence after graduation and has announced proposals to address the problem. But so far, apart from cancelling Trump’s proclamations, for the most part, this has all just been proposed. It’s now time for enactment.

Next Few Months Critical For America

Since the U.S. is about ten times as large as Canada, at least in terms of population, its immigration challenges are probably many times harder to resolve. Nonetheless, there are signs that Biden’s efforts will result in some success over the course of the next few months, either on the basis of agreement with Republicans, or perhaps in combination with the infrastructure initiative Biden put forward. Alternatively the way forward could involve stand alone measures, such as in the EB-5 proposal for investor immigration, or reforms could be included as part of the budgetary reconciliation process. Citing Canada’s exampe in this area may help to push the Biden immigration reform agenda through in this regard.

Published: 19 April 2021

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