The U.S. Administration has staged several high-profile attempts to legal immigration in the past year. There has been an increase in immigration and customs related arrests, campaigning for a border wall, and banning travel (multiple times) from Muslim majority countries. These maneuvers have received a great deal or press and public scrutiny. However, quietly, behind the scenes, the Trump administration has been attacking legal immigration with executive orders and policy directives that are denying visas and hindering U.S. companies desiring to hire skilled foreign nationals.
The U.S. Customs and Immigration Service is more closely vetting visa petitions, issuing more requests of evidence (RFEs) and more denials. “I call this the real wall,” said Anastasia Tonello, the president-elect of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “The wall is being built.”
USCIS has not only been denying visas for those who request to visit the U.S. for business or pleasure, but also those seeking employment with U.S. employers which alarming to and has a chilling effect on the U.S. economy.
The “Buy American, Hire American” executive order has served as the basis for many of the Administration’s immigration policy changes. The order targets the H-1B visa which is the go-to visas for employers hiring in the STEM industries and specialty occupations. The cap on H-1B visas has been set at 85,000 for several years. The demand greatly exceeds supply and the government has selected a lottery to select applicants who will be vetted.
2017 marks the lowest level approvals for H-1Bs in history at 59%. The next lowest was 74% in 2010 with 2016 at an all-time high of approximately 89% according to HR Dive’s October 19, 2017, article.
In addition, issuance of RFEs increased 44% during January to August this year over last year. “After the Trump team got settled in, the number of requests for evidence shot up dramatically and the approval rates for H-1Bs started to decline,” said Stuart Anderson, executive director of National Foundation for American Policy. Increased RFEs are delaying the immigration process and leading to more denials. In addition, even with extensive hundred-page replies to requests for evidence, there seems to be no pattern in who is approved and who is denied.
Some requests for evidence as asking for unreasonable proof and inventing new catch-22 questions such as proving a job is both specialized enough to be an H-1B but not too specialized for the wage level requested. This process of analyzing Department of Labor Approvals of Labor Condition Applications to find inconsistencies has resulted in a flurry of Request for Evidence and denials.
It’s also taking much longer for beneficiaries of the H-1B visas to receive their visa. A Cleveland Clinic representative said a team’s project was put on hold while awaiting a highly recruited cellular biologist to receive their visa. It has been stuck in “administrative processing” in India which could last for months. The same source also reported that a pediatric geneticist hired in the spring took 3 months to receive their visa. In the past it would have taken three days.
Increased scrutiny of H-1B visas and inconsistency with approvals is deterring foreign nationals and corporations from utilizing the visa. Dean Garfield, president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council, which represents major tech companies such as Facebook, Google and Apple, said his members are reconsidering their use of the program. Multinational companies are considering abandoning their American outposts and expanding overseas in nations with friendly corporate immigration policies. This could be hugely detrimental to the U.S. economy.
Today, highly qualified scientists and professionals with multiple degrees and extensive experience working at the top internationally are now unsure if they’ll be good enough to receive visas to the United States. Large corporation such as Google and Amazon are expanding overseas operations in preparation for a crisis in employment based immigration. The nation is at a crossroads. It’s time for legislators to begin taking assertive efforts to prepare reforms to immigration which benefits the U.S. economy, American corporations and American people.