The Trump administration is deliberately focusing the national immigration debate around the southern border while quietly denying more applications and petitions from people seeking to enter the country legally. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been issuing more and more requests for evidence (RFEs) recently in an attempt to further restrict legal immigration.
Requests for evidence call into question the very basis of the original petition and require employers and attorneys to gather and submit additional information. Receiving an RFE often adds months and thousands of dollars to the cost of applying for an H-1B visa.
In the first quarter of the 2019 fiscal year, USCIS issued requests for supplement information to 60% of companies (60,650) who applied for an H-1B visa on behalf of a foreign worker (includes both extensions and prospective new hires). During the same quarter in FY 2018, USCIS issued 44,338 RFEs, which translates to a 26.9% increase in RFEs in a single year. What’s more, in the first quarter of 2017 USCIS issued a total of 26,799 RFEs. In other words, in two years there has been a 55.8% increase in applicants who received the request for supplemental documents.
While the majority of petitions are still getting approved, the approval rate is dropping. Over the past two years, H-1B visa approvals have decreased by 18%, according to USCIS data. In the first quarter of FY 2017, 92.1% of H-1B visa petitions were approved as compared to 75.4% during the first quarter of FY 2019.
The rise in RFEs and denials relates to the “Buy American, Hire American” presidential executive order that directs agencies to find ways to award H-1B visas “to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.”
Most often the requests for evidence ask the company to prove that the sponsored job is indeed a “specialty occupation,” a basic requirement for issuing an H-1b visa. Companies are also asked to prove their employer-employee relationship and to show specific work assignments for the entire duration of the visa.
USCIS spokesperson Jessica Collins said that “USCIS has made a series of reforms designed to protect U.S. workers, increase our confidence in the eligibility of those who receive benefits, cut down on frivolous petitions and improve the integrity and efficiency of the immigration-petition process.” However, denying legitimate applications and over-issuing RFEs ties up the entire H-1B petition process in bureaucratic red tape.
Denials will most likely increase even more this year. In the first quarter of the 2019 fiscal year, 25,000 H-1B applications were denied, a 50% increase from the same period last year.