Making Government Work

Alleviating Obstacles to Sponsorship

Alleviating Obstacles to Sponsorship
Leslie White
Taking care of our country’s children are almost 210,000 childcare workers. Of those, about 24 percent are undocumented workers.

Officially, a family can sponsor the person who helps raise their children for a green card, which allows that person to live and work in the United States. But the aging American immigration system has gotten in the way, resulting in a broken process in which domestic caregivers who do seek citizenship almost always get rejected.

New York City immigration attorney Charles Goldsmith says that if someone approaches his office seeking to sponsor the person watching their child, nine times out of 10 he doesn’t take the case because “it’ll go nowhere.”

As a result, the vast majority of these workers are employed illegally, making them vulnerable to low pay, workplace abuse and an inability to seek out care if hurt on the job. Families that hire undocumented immigrants are also committing tax fraud if they pay under the table.

“It’s a burden for parents,” says Marcia Hall, president of the International Nannies Association. “There are so many families that don’t understand [the laws] and how they can get in trouble if they don’t abide by them.”

Conservative lawmakers believe the answer to this situation is to focus solely on American workers. But many immigration experts say the system must be modernized for today’s workforce.

Make it more affordable

In general, people who want to sponsor a domestic worker shell out $5,000 to $10,000 — a hefty burden to many.

There are costly legal and governmental fees, plus the law requires parents to advertise in a newspaper (which can cost hundreds of dollars) to prove their child’s caregiver has distinct abilities that no other American worker has. “Advertising in print newspapers is utterly obsolete and passe,” says James Pittman, a Philadelphia-based immigration lawyer.

And what if a family and their childcare provider wanted to share the fees? Immigrants can reduce the costs by applying for a financial hardship waiver, but there’s little to help available for working parents.

Expedite the application process

Normally, it takes about eight months for the U.S. Department of Labor to process the first round (of at least three) of a childcare provider’s paperwork. During that time period, the babysitter’s 6-month tourist visa (if she had one) will expire forcing her to return home. “Many families find that domestic worker who takes care of their children and wants them to become part of the family, only to find out there really is no way to do it,” says Jackie Vimo, an economic justice policy analyst with the National Immigration Law Center.

Modify the existing H-2B program

Each year, 66,000 H-2B visas are available to non-agricultural workers without a secondary or professional degree. They usually go to seasonal employees at resorts and sometimes to landscapers or fishermen.  People can stay on the visa for 12 months and are eligible for two one-year extensions, but experts say that more should be made available — primarily because of the need for immigrants within our economy. “They’re the ones who are helping take care of our children and allowing for American women to work,” says Goldsmith.

Consider paying taxes

Many undocumented caregivers came to the United States decades ago. Some overstayed their visas, others never had them — but they were almost always in search of a better and safer life. Under current law, undocumented immigrants who have paid taxes and have proven good moral character for 10 years, plus have a legal parent, spouse or child who would “suffer extreme or unusual hardship” as a result of her deportation, can petition for legal status under section 240A(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Admittedly, no one would endorse or wish hardship on a loved one for the sake of legal residence. But paying taxes and contributing to the American Social Security system might give more political support in Washington, D.C. for a pathway to legal status for undocumented workers.

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