Trump Administration Red Tape Tangles Up Visas for Skilled Foreigners
The Trump administration is making it more difficult for skilled foreigners to work in the United States, challenging visa applications more often than at nearly any point in the Obama era, according to data reviewed by Reuters.
The more intense scrutiny of the applications for H-1B visas comes after President Donald Trump called for changes to the visa program so that it benefits the highest-paid workers, though he has not enacted any such reforms.
Data provided by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services shows that between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, the agency issued 85,000 challenges, or “requests for evidence” (RFEs), to H-1B visa petitions - a 45 percent increase over the same period last year. The total number of H-1B petitions rose by less than 3 percent in the same period.
The challenges, which can slow down the issuance of visas by months, were issued at a greater rate in 2017 than at any time in the Obama administration except for one year, 2009, according to the USCIS data, which has not been previously reported.
(For a graphic on the number of H-1B challenges, click here: tmsnrt.rs/2xelVfN)
The trend is likely to cheer supporters of Trump’s hardline stance on immigration. They say visas for skilled foreigners undercut American workers by replacing them with low-paid employees shipped in from abroad. But major tech companies, universities and hospitals contend the visas allow them to fill highly specialized jobs for which there are sometimes few qualified Americans.
H-1B visas allow foreign workers, generally with bachelor's degrees or higher, to work for three years at a time, often in the technology, healthcare and education sectors. Microsoft , Amazon, Google, Apple. Intel, Oracle and Facebook were heavy users of H-1B visas in 2016, according to USCIS data.
The USCIS inquiries typically challenge the basis of the original petitions and assert that the employers do not qualify for the visas. Employers and their lawyers must then provide further evidence to prove their need and eligibility for the visas.
To be sure, the Obama administration also issued a large number of H-1B challenges – nearly 59,000 - from January through August 2016, and a similar number in 2015.
Immigration attorneys have for years complained about redundant and burdensome challenges to high-skilled employment visas. But they say they are seeing a new trend in the Trump era.
In addition to querying applications more often, the Trump administration is targeting entry-level jobs offered to skilled foreigners. The lawyers say this violates the law governing H-1Bs, because it allows for visa holders to take entry-level jobs.
Several attorneys said they view the increase in challenges and focus on entry-level jobs as a stealth campaign by the administration against the H-1B program in the absence of public regulatory changes or changes passed by Congress, which could be debated and decided in the open.
USCIS spokesman Robert C. Langston did not directly address the new trend identified by lawyers or the sharp spike in RFEs this year. In an email, he said the agency is applying “currently existing policy that interprets existing statutory and regulatory requirements to evaluate petitions.”
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