There is one thing that U.S. immigration practitioners undoubtedly agree: the law and policy under President Trump has seen dramatic and far-reaching changes. It is nearly impossible to discern patterns or trends, much less predict future actions by the Department of Homeland Security. We seem to have entered a new era for applications, enforcement, processing and everything in between as far as immigration benefits go. Here is an absurd attempt at clairvoyance:
- Cost of Immigration Benefits: This is certainly increasing as we enter 2020 because of the new fee schedules announced by Department of Homeland Security will take effect. On November 10, 2019, the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) announced substantial increases in filing and application fees, some as high as 83%. Perhaps the steepest is the filing fee for applications for naturalization (citizenship) which would jump from $725 to $1,170. If as expected, the new rule takes effect, applicants for immigration benefits would confront yet another hurdle in their quest to become Americans. If the recent past is any guide, we are likely to see a more costly immigration process.
- Applications for Naturalization: Despite the hefty new fees, we are likely witness a continuing uptick in applicants seeking to become U.S. citizens. The country goes to a general election in November, 2020 and applications for new citizenship usually rise in anticipation of the vote. The new Americans relish the opportunity to participate in electing leaders for the first time. Another contributing factor may be increased anxiety due to tougher crackdowns on immigrants since Trump took office. There has been an increase in reports of arrest and detention of lawful permanent residents by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) making naturalization an imperative for those who qualify.
- Interest in Immigrating to U.S.: Perhaps not unexpectedly, as the U.S. anti-immigrant stance grows, would-be immigrants would look for opportunities elsewhere in the West. The trend of falling numbers is likely to continue in 2020. This is especially true of immigrants who are highly educated, specialized and holders of advanced degrees. According to POLITICO of March 20, 2018, Canada, Western Europe and Australia are taking full advantage of U.S. anti-immigrant stance and scooping up the best and brightest from the rest of the world. In 2018, The Washington Post reported a continuing “dwindling” of enrollment by international students at U.S. colleges and universities attributable to what it called the “Trump Effect.” There is no reason to expect that 2019 and 2020 would be any different.
- Emigration/Outbound Flight: The trend of “reverse immigration” is likely to continue unabated in the new year. Anecdotal evidence suggests that immigrants are re-thinking their decisions to make America their permanent homes. In 2015, it was reported that for the first time, the number of people and families moving out of the U.S. had surpassed those interested in coming to the U.S. A Pew Research project concluded that more Mexicans were leaving the U.S. than those crossing the bother to the north. One could see more Africans in the U.S. opting to “self-deport” particularly those who hail from relatively peaceful and economically stable countries like Kenya, South Africa, Botswana and Rwanda. This should worry demographers and economists who predict a whopping 10,000 per day in retirement of baby boomers. According to Monster.com, growth-oriented employers would do well to include hiring immigrant workers to fill the baby boomer workforce gap. Pew Research found that roughly one third of the workforce in the country are Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964).
- Changes in Practice of Immigration Law: We expect the landscape will continue to change. Nervous clients will increasingly require better, faster and more personalized services. According to CLIO’s Legal Trends Report 2019, statistics for attorney responsiveness are dismal. Successful practitioners would have to change to survive and must adopt new paradigms to grow. The attorney-client dynamic will be permanently impacted with advances in technology and DIY options. Immigration as a practice area will remain under attack from sites like Legalzoom, Rocket Lawyer and others which promote the notion that lawyers are simply expensive form fillers. Yet, with the changes sweeping the immigration ecosystem, clients would demand more of their attorneys. Firms like ANTOLAK & ONGERI, The Transatlantic Law Firm, PLLC will continue to leverage its competitive advantage in the niche market of diaspora clients. We consider the new changes in practice to be great opportunities to provide even more value to our clients across North America and Eastern Africa.
Happy New Immigration Year!