The president’s State of the Union address on January 30, 2018, confirmed anew that this administration is focused on a singular “righteous” mission, to make America great again.  The president made clear that this “America First” mission would focus on dual goals – stimulating a rich economy, with American companies incentivized to “hire American” and bring jobs back to America, and protecting American families and community.

In keeping with this mission, the president presented an immigration reform proposal delineating four pillars, which tracked the Framework on Immigration & Border Security circulated by the White House last week:

  1. The first pillar would offer a 12-year path to citizenship for the 1.8 million young people who were brought to the country as children, and whose education, commitment to work, and good moral character is demonstrable.
  2. The second pillar seeks to secure our border, with a “great wall” to safeguard American communities, keep criminals and terrorists out, and end the longstanding practice of “catch and release” at the US-Mexico border.
  3. The third pillar would end the diversity visa (DV) lottery for permanent residency, and was portrayed by the president as indicative of the need to move our immigration system in the direction of a merit-based evaluation.  The DV program makes up to 50,000 immigrant visas available annually to individuals who are from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States, and whose applications are drawn for random selection. The administration’s plan would reallocate the 50,000 visas toward reducing the current family- and employer-sponsored backlogs.
  4. The fourth and final pillar would restrict family-based immigrant visa sponsorships to spouses and minor children of US citizens, focusing sponsorship on the nuclear family.  The president’s suggestion that, “under the current broken system a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives,” is simply inaccurate (and drew audible boos from Democratic members).  But over the course of a phased-in plan, US permanent residents would no longer be permitted to sponsor spouses and children, and US citizens would be prevented from sponsoring adult children, parents, or siblings.

The speech made clear that the president intends to achieve significant reductions in the volume of immigrants allowed into the United States. Stemming the influx of undocumented entrants and refugees has been on the president’s agenda since the campaign. But the draconian reductions on family-based immigration would limit growth of the American population through legal avenues. The Cato Institute’s report estimates that the president’s plan would reduce US legal immigration by 22 million people over the next five decades.  The potential impact to economic growth and jobs creation in the United States could be dramatic.

For US employers, there are six key takeaways from the president’s speech.

  1. Immigration reform is unlikely to garner this administration’s support unless it includes increased border security and an immigration system focused increasingly on merit-based criteria that results in substantially reduced overall immigration.
  2. Employers who demonstrate that they are investing in training American workers, whether through US college graduate training, programs for veterans, or general vocational programs, will be rewarded.
  3. Creation of new jobs and opening of new jobs centers in the United States is important.
  4. Permanent residency sponsorship and “revolving door” options such as intra-company movement among global affiliates should be explored now.
  5. Wage levels in visa petitions and applications will be scrutinized.
  6. A path to citizenship for DREAMers is possible, but until legislation is agreed to, the March 5, 2018 sunset remains a threat despite interim court action that has temporarily allowed DACA’s protections to remain in place.

In this environment, open communications with employees and business leaders, provision of employer hotlines allowing for anonymous consultations, and collaboration among HR, Legal, and Government Relations leaders to address workforce concerns similarly remain essential.