H-1B Visa Government Inaction Is Hurting the Economy
Among the many election promises that Donald Trump offered up on the campaign trail was that he would overhaul the H-1B visa program that allows for the importation of highly-skilled workers. Now that Trump is president, legislative inaction and bureaucratic red tape have put the program in limbo, hurting both jobs and businesses.
The Trump administration has a lot on its plate when it comes to immigration. Between the Mexican border wall that has yet to see any construction begin (or a budget plan whereby Mexico provides any morsel of funding for the project) and the controversy over the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program, the White House has not shied away from immersing itself in heated immigration debates.
And then there are the country-specific immigration bans that have experienced numerous lengthy challenges in courts across the country.
With all those distractions bearing down on the federal government, Trump’s promise to reform the H-1B visa program has gone by the wayside.
Opponents of the program argue that it strips Americans of jobs that they could otherwise fill by bringing in foreign workers on the cheap. Supporters of the program believe that it is necessary for American companies to stay competitive and that it fills voids in businesses that otherwise would remain empty without the influx of skilled workers from other countries.
The lack of legislative reform, however, has led the U.S. government to try to slow down the H-1B visa program through another means: red tape. Instead of changing the language of the program, reports show that a new interpretation of H-1B has been implemented, leaving many companies uncertain as to how to proceed.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has challenged an unusually high number of H-1B applicants in 2017. In previous years, many of these applications would fly through the approval process, but what we’re seeing now is that more of them are being slowed down by bureaucracy. “Requests for evidence” are up 44% compared to in 2016, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. This is the highest yearly number of such requests since 2009.
While those who support a curtailing of the H-1B visa program may view this as a win, the consequences have been felt by companies that are unsure about how to navigate the current system, leaving jobs unoccupied and businesses suffering.
With legislative changes, businesses would know exactly where they stand with the program and how best to navigate it. But, with this subtler reinterpretation and re-implementation of the bill without formal codified instructions, businesses are being left in the lurch. What worked last year does not apply now, and businesses don’t know what will and won’t be challenged in the visa applications.
Not to mention, many workers who have arrived on the H-1B visa program are now in a murky situation. Some have even seen their current visa expire before their new one has been processed, held up by the “requests for evidence” backlog.
The primary problem is that without the clear reworking, rewording, or even scrapping of the program, businesses are more likely to proceed as they used to. But, with the government’s new marching orders to challenge more applicants and otherwise slow down the application process, companies are experiencing the worst of all outcomes.
With the White House adamant about protecting U.S. jobs and curtailing the influx of foreign workers, it’s doubtful that there will be much improvement to the way the H-1B visas are currently processed.
Conversely, with so many other legislative issues on the Trump administration’s plate, from healthcare to tax reform, it’s unlikely that the H-1B visa program will receive much attention at all, being a comparatively smaller political fish to fry.
The end result will be more uncertainty and, at times, chaos for U.S. companies’ hiring practices, which will result in businesses being damaged and jobs potentially remaining unfilled.
“Trump’s H-1B Reform Is to Make Life Hell for Immigrants and Companies,” Bloomberg, November 6, 2017.