Tag Archives: greencard holders

Few Gigs Left In The Gig Economy

My daughter recently moved to the Bay Area. She has a new job, her first out of college, but viewed the move with trepidation. Could she and her roommates afford west coast rents on their modest salaries? They worried about returning to their old bargain basement digs – unsavory but inexpensive – it got broken into twice, and one night they awoke to find a passerby smashing in their car windscreen with a brick.

They wanted safe – but could not afford it.

The hunt was on. The onset of COVID19 had driven all three home to their parents. But understandably, the itch to get on with grown up lives even in the new normal, intensified their search.

After four months of trawling through rental property websites, an Airbnb host offered the trio her charming San Francisco apartment at an incredible discount – much to their disbelief, it was well below its listing price. It appears that after the owner’s business took a nosedive in the pandemic, she was prepared to take a chance on newly minted graduates, offering them a long term rental they could just about afford.

Many gig workers like my daughter’s new Airbnb landlady took a hit when the pandemic struck. Once, they were the face of a thriving gig economy  – Airbnb reported that its women hosts earned nearly $15 billion in the last year alone.. But as the pandemic unceremoniously sank the economy, forcing businesses to shut and jobs to vanish under the threat of infection, many gig workers – Airbnb hosts, Uber drivers, dog walkers, babysitters, Task Rabbit ‘taskers’ – faced with the prospect of layoffs, reduced hours and pay, had to invent new ways to supplement incomes in order to survive.

Dr. Alexandrea Ravenelle

“Quite frankly, now is not a good time to be a gig worker, said Dr. Alexandrea Ravenelle, Professor of Sociology (UNC Chapel Hill), at an Oct 2 Ethnic Media Services briefing about the pandemic’s devastating impact on the gig economy.

Not only do gig workers find business drying up, but those who depend on app-based livelihoods risk exposure to the coronavirus.

Uber and Lyft drivers taking strangers to airports and Task Rabbit workers going into private homes to assist or run errands, are especially vulnerable, because they often work jobs “in close proximity with strangers that carries a high risk of exposure to COVID19,” warned Dr. Ravenelle, who interviewed 200 gig workers for a study. The danger of infection coupled with a huge drop in demand for their services, puts gig workers in a “lose lose situation.”

Challenges facing gig workers

Already enduring precarious circumstances, gig workers are now forced to compete for a smaller share of offerings. Even though the lockdown triggered increasing demand for food delivery apps – DoorDash, UberEats, GrubHub – and grocery shopping apps like Shipt and Instacart, which app-based workers have long relied on as dependable sources of income, the rise in demand hasn’t helped.

In fact, app-based workers now are fighting off growing competition from a surge of newly unemployed workers for food delivery jobs, even as they fight to keep the virus at bay. In Chicago, Saori Okawa, who worked as an Uber driver before the pandemic, told the Chicago Tribune she was making less money delivering food now than she did ferrying passengers in her car.

Growing numbers of unemployed workers are using what Dr. Ravenelle, calls the ‘side hustle safety net’ to keep afloat in a sinking economy. New ‘hustlers’ are flooding the gig economy, either because they do not know they are eligible to receive unemployment benefits, or, can no longer wait for funds; but many refuse to apply for what they perceive as the stigma of a government handout. Even documented and green card holders who are eligible have refused unemployment benefits, fearing it would jeopardize their legal status.

Newcomers are turning to gig jobs as “an occupation of last resort,” even though it pays less than unemployment benefits, said Dr. Ravenelle. Many want to escape being trapped at home without any work, but most unemployed workers are desperate to feed their families and pay their rent.

She revealed that this non-traditional workforce as a whole is slightly more educated than the overall workforce; the survey indicated that 36% of respondents had undergraduate degrees, while some even held PhDs and medical degrees.

Nevertheless, none of these workers will find allies in the multibillion dollar companies that hire them, especially in California (and San Francisco in particular), which has a higher concentration of workers, because that’s where many online platform companies got their start.

Prop 22 Hurts Gig Workers

In California, gig companies are trying to sidestep legislation (AB5) that reclassified gig workers as employees, to avoid paying benefits or guarantee a minimum wage to workers. App-based giants Uber, Lyft, Instacart and DoorDash spent almost $188 million to support Prop 22  – a ballot measure to reclassify app-based (rideshare) and delivery drivers as independent contractors instead of employees, and exempt themselves from compensating workers fairly. Prop 22 would deny drivers basic safety net protections like paid sick leave, workers compensation or unemployment benefits, that are crucial during this pandemic. It removes time-based wage protections, so drivers are only guaranteed $5 an hour. As 1099-based independent contractors, workers are not entitled to minimum wage, overtime, or unemployment insurance.  Nor would there be protections for health and safety, family or workers’ compensation.

Dr.Veena Dubal, UC Hastings School of Law

“Drivers in California are owed billions in dollars from back wages, said Dr. Veena Dubal, from UC Hastings  School of Law, calling Prop 22 “the most dangerous labor law that I’ve seen in in my lifetime.”

“We need the benefits. We don’t want to depend on public assistance when we’re working for multi-billion dollar corporations,” said Robert Moreno, one of over 57 million US gig workers (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), who makes a living as an Uber driver.  “The almost $200 million that Uber and Lyft spent on the campaign could have covered almost three years of benefits.”

Robert Moreno, gig worker & panellist

After the pandemic Moreno saw his wages drop nearly in half from $850 to around $350 for a weekend shift, as the ride-share giant began to shortchange drivers with fee schedules and penalties. Moreno alleged his fee share dropped from 50% to 25% of the fare even as Uber charged passengers more than the fare shown on the driver’s app. Drivers are only compensated for ride time but not for awaiting a fare, so, if the ride time is just 5 minutes, asked Moreno, “What’s the profit in that?”  Uber also penalized drivers who refused low rated passengers or end-of-shift pickups, by giving them inferior assignments.

“There is no flexibility. They own you,” said Moreno.

Layoffs, cost-cutting, decrease in demand and safety concerns are forcing gig workers to quit, even as the coronavirus threatens the economy, their lives and livelihood.

Will gig workers survive the pandemic?

In March, Airbnb reported that in the last 12 years, women’s percentage of five-star reviews had grown to 83 percent, but by July, Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s chief executive, told 1,900 employees – a quarter of Airbnb’s work force – they were out.

My daughter’s Airbnb host has renewed her lease for another 6 months.

The odds aren’t in your favor when gigs dry up in a gig economy.


Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents

Image by InstagramFOTOGRAFIN from Pixabay

 

Trump’s War On Immigrants

The Trump presidency has made more than 400 changes to US immigration policy since it took office, waging what immigration advocates are calling ‘Trump’s war on immigrants.’

The Trump administration went on the offensive in January 2017, accelerating changes to immigration policy in a series of rapidfire executive actions. A report released by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) in July catalogs more than 400 revisions which have swiftly and ‘dramatically reshaped the U.S. immigration system’ in the last four years.

The sweeping changes impact “everything from border and interior enforcement, to refugee resettlement and the asylum system, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the immigration courts, and vetting and visa processes,” states the report, and places tough restrictions on potential tourists, foreign workers and international students.

Sarah Pierce, Migration Policy Institute

“Many of the changes reflect the administrations’ really strong knowledge of immigration law,” confirmed Sarah Pierce, a policy expert who co-authored the report, at a briefing on immigration system changes hosted by Ethnic Media Services on August 7.

The new regulations reflect the administration’s willingness to enforce technicalities “that have been on books for years,” said Pierce, but have rarely been implemented. Those penalties and restrictions are now being used to restrict immigration into the country, reflecting emerging trends in the administration’s anti-immigration agenda.

What Laws have Changed?

The consensus among immigration experts at the briefing was that the Trump administration has used the current national crises to further their political agenda with executive orders that significantly reduce the flow of legal immigrants into the country.

Ignazia Rodrigues, NILC

Ignazia Rodrigues, immigration policy advocate at the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) described the push to add a citizenship question to the census as an example of the administration’s anti-immigrant policy.

Most of the changes have been implemented by executive fiat without going through Congress, explained Pierce. Acting on the rhetoric that immigration poses a threat to the nation’s security and economy, the administration has doubled down on reducing immigration into the country, driving reform through ‘layered changes’ on a series of regulations, policy and programs.

For example, under a new revision, ICE can enforce a1996 law to levy exorbitant fines of $799 a day on unauthorized  immigrants who remain in the country in violation of a removal order.

In another draconian example, the Trump administration has expanded the definition of who fits the Public Charge rule, which bars foreign nationals who receive or are deemed likely to receive public benefits from becoming legal permanent residents. The rule uses the totality of the circumstances test to evaluate a broad set of metrics such as education, English proficiency, income, jobs, health and family size to deny entry to applicants.

As a result, a large number of green card holders are at risk of denial MPI reports, because at least 69% of recent green-card recipients have at least one of the negative factors that could be weighted against them under the regulation. The ruling will disfavor women, the elderly and children, as well as nationals from Central America and Mexico. Findings from MPI also show that immigrants from Africa, Asia, Latin America are less likely to be favored under the new Public Charge rule, said Pierce.

Though these changes may seem like minor technicalities, taken altogether they will have a monumental impact in dismantling and reconstructing the immigration system in the long term, and significantly change the face of U.S. immigration.

The MPI report finds that these critical changes will result in closing off humanitarian benefits, sealing the southern border, creating hurdles for both legal and unauthorized immigrants already in country and reducing legal immigration into the country.

However, the advent of the coronavirus has fueled the administration’s immigration offensive.

“The pandemic has only accelerated the pace of changes this administration has made,” said Pierce, identifying three major changes enforced since the COVID-19 crisis began, and the implication for prospective immigrants.

The administration invoked a 1944 public health law that allows the Surgeon General to restrict the entry of individuals deemed a public health threat, and block people at the US-Mexico border. The order, issued directly from the CDC director Robert Redfield, allows border security to bypass established protocols and expel children and asylum seekers from countries with communicable diseases, effectively ending asylum at the southern border. Human Rights First condemned the CDC order for “ending refugee and child protections at the border indefinitely, endangering rather than saving lives.”

Then, on April 22, President Trump signed a proclamation restricting permanent immigration in order to protect American workers and their jobs. The proclamation and the follow up June 22 proclamation restricting temporary workers, limits the entry of foreign workers (on H1B visas for example) and prospective immigrants applying for employment-based green cards from abroad. It also restricts ‘chain migration’ by temporarily suspending entry for many prospective citizens applying for family-based green cards from other countries. Effectively, citizens and green card holders are prevented from sponsoring family members – parents, siblings, spouses and children – to join them in the US.

Kalpana Peddibhotla, Immigration Attorney

Losing skilled foreign workers would negatively impact innovation and job growth especially in the high tech sector said immigration attorney Kalpana Peddibhotla, as several studies show that “foreign workers in STEM fields are critical to the innovation in the growth of patents,” and “immigrants are twice as likely to start businesses than US born natives.”

However, the restrictions continue unabated.  Travel bans still exist for foreign nationals traveling from 31 different countries, said Pierce, and the President recently signed an executive order restricting the ability of federal contractors to hire foreign nationals; the new order also referenced further restrictions proposed in the future for the H1B program.

These orders achieve what the administration has been working towards long before the pandemic began, remarked Pierce. “It’s hard to imagine them walking back any of these restrictions, even after the pandemic is no longer a prevalent issue.”

It’s uncertain whether future administrations would have the time, resources and willingness to reverse the restrictions said Pierce, adding that some reversals would require careful consideration; for example, if restrictions were lifted at the southern border it could result in a surge of unauthorized arrivals.

As the country begins the slow process of recovery from multiple crises – a pandemic, an economic slowdown and racial injustice uprisings, “It’s hard for me to picture a future administration investing this much in immigration,” said Pierce.

However, she pointed out that a future president could easily reverse the original 2017 travel ban which is still in place and expanded in 2020, because it would send “a visible strong signal that the US is changing its tone on immigration.”

It’s important to note that every one of these executive actions have been contested by lawsuits filed against the administration said Peddibhotla. “This is definitely not a great way for us to be governing and managing our immigration process. But it’s incredibly important that the lawsuits continue in order to hold the administration accountable.”


Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents.

Photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash