Referencing popular rhetoric in the Trump administration, a leading U.S. employment attorney with immigration expertise said during a local immigration symposium on Thursday that, “There is no chain migration.”

Donald Berner, a partner with the Foulston Seifkin law firm in Wichita, was the featured speaker at an event targeting human resources professionals in southwest Kansas who are contending with complications in the U.S. job market amid a tumultuous climate for immigration policy and reform.

Bener is listed in “The Best Lawyers in America,” a peer reviewed legal publication, and by Chambers USA as a top employment attorney in the United States.

The event was hosted by the Society for Human Resources Management of SouthWest Kansas, the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Livestock Association, and the Finney County Convention and Visitors Bureau. It was held at the Finnup Center for Conservation Education.

Darlene Lucas, HR director for Finney County and this year’s president of SHRM of SWKS, said now is an imperative time for HR professionals to engage with nuanced immigration issues as the region works to ensure workforce sustainability.

The event drew almost 100 people, including representatives from the offices of Kansas Congressional delegates Rep. Roger Marshall and Sen. Jerry Moran.

During the presentation that outlined different visa options afforded to foreign-born workers and aspiring immigrants, Berner used the February 2018 visa bulletin to show just how significant backlogs are for immigrants hoping to obtain permanent residency through a green card.

Chain migration refers to the process by which migrants follow friends and relatives from one place to another, whether it’s another country or city.

The term has been used by the Trump administration as an assessment of an immigration system that, while fraught, technically allows American citizens and green-card holders to petition for relatives to receive green cards and permanent residency.

While there is no disputing that chain migration does technically occur, Berner predicated that backlogs in various countries — especially China, India, Mexico and the Philippines — are so lengthy in some cases that the notion of chain migration occurring en masse can only be relegated to the realm of hyperbole.

“Sometimes politicians talk smack to rile up the base and make them think they’re doing something,” Berner said. “The visa bulletin has already done it. There is no chain migration.”

When it comes to the visa bulletin, family sponsorships are organized into five preferential categories. The first category with the highest priority pertains to unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens.

For all countries except Mexico and the Philippines, applications filed in March 2011 are just now being acted on, resulting in a seven-year wait at best. For Mexico, applications filed in July 1996 are just being acted on — a 22-year wait. And for the Philippines, applications filed in August 2005 are just being acted on, a 13-year wait.

Other categories of family-sponsored visa preference include spouses and children of permanent residents, unmarried sons and daughters of permanent residents, married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens, in order of overall priority.

The longest current wait time for a family-sponsored visa is around 24 years for brothers and sisters of adult U.S. Filipino citizens.

As for employment-based cases, things are a little different. The visa bulletin breaks down priority into five categories, but Berner condensed it down to three essential categories. The first category for priority workers — basically experts with national notoriety in some sphere of influence — is completely current and the country is accepting applications now for all nationalities on that front.

The second priority, Berner said, is specific to job seekers with a master’s degree or its equivalent looking for a job that requires that level of credential. The application process is current for all countries except China and India. In China, the wait creeps back to October 2013, and in India the wait goes back to December 2008.

The third tier, titled “Skilled Workers, Professionals and Other Workers,” is applicable to workers with a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, or a specialized skill of equal measure. Applications in that category are current for all countries except China, India and the Philippines. While waits for China and the Philippines are around just one to three years, the wait time in India is close to 11.

“The bad news is, unless you’re a rocket scientist, which is current in all categories, if you’re from India and you’re a PhD-level super duper guru doctor computer software guy, awesome. Your wait goes back to 2008,” Berner said.

“So really, for people from India at the highest levels of education, the process is broken quite frankly,” he added. “That’s an important community. There are a lot of smart people in that community that are very important to U.S. businesses that sit and linger in limbo land waiting.”

Berner also discussed the nuances of visa optimization, immigration reform, DACA and E-Verify.

E-Verify is a voluntary vetting program that some states have made mandatory. The program matches records provided by job applicants with Social Security numbers, names and photos on file in the government database.

Under the Trump administration, Berner said, he thinks there is a good chance E-Verify could become nationally mandatory as a component of immigration reform, which he said fundamentally involves border and domestic security measures.

But still, Berner added that he doesn’t “trust” the Trump White House to maintain any consistency when it comes to steady implementation of immigration protocol.

"I do not trust them. They are changing the rules day by day, and they’re throwing up obstacles and roadblocks,” he said, noting that the risk for deportation based on technical visa infractions continues to rise.

“This whole process is in flux, and you can’t tell what’s going to happen from day to day," he added. "Petitions that were approved before are being denied now. You can file the same petition for two different people. One petition is approved, the other one is denied. So we’ve got a lot of a mess going on.”

Contact Mark Minton at mminton@gctelegram.com.