WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is considering key changes in the nation’s immigration system requested by tech, industry and powerful interest groups, in a move that could blunt Republicans’ election-year criticism of the president’s go-it-alone approach to immigration.
Administration officials and advocates said the steps would go beyond the expected relief from deportations for some immigrants in the U.S. illegally that Mr. Obama signaled he would adopt after immigration efforts in Congress collapsed. Following a bevy of recent White House meetings, top officials have compiled specific recommendations from business groups and other advocates whose support could undercut GOP claims that Mr. Obama is exceeding his authority to help people who have already violated immigration laws.
“The president has not made a decision regarding next steps, but he believes it’s important to understand and consider the full range of perspectives on potential solutions,” White House spokesman Shawn Turner said.
One of the more popular requests among business and family groups is a change in the way green cards are counted that would essentially free up some 800,000 additional visas the first year, advocates say. The result would be threefold: It would lessen the visa bottleneck for business seeking global talent; shorten the green card line for those being sponsored by relatives, a wait that can stretch nearly 25 years; and potentially reduce the incentive for illegal immigration by creating more legal avenues for those wanting to come, as well as those already here.
Obama aides have held more than 20 meetings in recent months with business groups and other interest groups to discuss possibilities, ahead of an announcement about next steps that the president is expected to make in September. Coordinating these “listening sessions,” as the White House calls them, is its Office of Public Engagement, led by top Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.
Mr. Obama’s options without new laws from Congress are limited and would only partially address obstacles that business groups say are preventing them from hiring more workers. Even so, administration officials say these groups are urging the White House to help streamline a complex and unpredictable system.
Republicans are working to use immigration and the border surge of unaccompanied minors against Democrats in the midterm elections, by arguing that Mr. Obama and his party are undermining the rule of law.
“Politically we think it [Obama’s contemplated action] flips the switch, because it’s not just talking about a benefit to those who broke the law,” said former Rep. Bruce Morrison, D-Conn., who authored the 1990 immigration law and is now lobbying on behalf of groups representing tech industry professionals, business management and U.S. citizens married to foreigners.
Texas-based Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak said the moves on legal immigration might prompt businesses to praise the president.
Mr. Obama in June announced that in the face of congressional inaction, he would act on his own to address the nation’s immigration mess. Since then, advocates for the roughly 11 million people living in the country illegally have lobbied for deportation relief, particularly for parents of U.S.-born children and parents of youth who are authorized to remain in the country under a program Mr. Obama announced in 2012.
In recent weeks, other groups have stepped up public pressure in favor of presidential action. Those who support changing the green card count say each year half of the 140,000 employment-based green cards issued go to spouses and children, unnecessarily reducing the numbers available to workers.
Other requests have included removing the requirement that some spouses of U.S. citizens return to their native country for at least three years before they can apply for U.S. residency, as well as extending work permits to spouses of all temporary H1-B skilled workers.