It may be a while before President Donald Trump gets another chance at creating a new, “merit-based” immigration system, a keystone of his four-part plan that Congress rejected in February. In the meantime, his administration is busy making it harder, not easier, for skilled migrants to come work in the United States.
According to AP report, The State Department has ended an Obama-era program to grant visas to foreign entrepreneurs who want to start companies in the United States. It is more aggressively scrutinising visas to skilled workers from other countries. And it is contemplating ending a provision that allows spouses of those skilled workers to be employed in the US.
The administration and its backers contend it’s trying to fix flaws in the existing, employer-centric skilled immigration system while advocating for a complete overhaul of America’s immigration system. “The stuff that they’re actually doing is not so much restricting skilled immigration as enforcing the law,” said Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports reducing immigration. “They’re rolling back some of the extra-legal measures that other administrations have taken.”
A primary avenue for skilled immigrants to enter the United States is the H1B visa for speciality workers, which is heavily used by the technology industry. About 85,000 visas are issued annually in a lottery system. Some critics argue they are a way for companies to avoid hiring US citizens; Trump himself has said H1B recipients shouldn’t even be considered skilled.
In 2016, two technology workers sued Disney, alleging 250 US employees were laid off and many were forced to train replacements who were hired on H1B visas. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying Disney was following existing immigration laws.
AP further reports, That the Trump administration has increased its scrutiny of H1B applications, requiring renewals be submitted in person and asking for additional proof the workers are needed and are being paid top tier. “This increase reflects our commitment to protecting the integrity of the immigration system,” said Joanne Fereirra, a spokeswoman for US Citizenship and Immigration Services. She added that 92.5 percent of the visas are still approved, only two percentage points lower than under the Obama administration in 2016.
Still, businesses have noticed a change. “We’ve got employees that are going through the process, who have gone through such a level of scrutiny and interrogatory that is unprecedented,” said Dean Garfield, president of the Information Technology Industry Council, which advocates for H1B visas and has had one of its own workers have to move back overseas because of delays in approving the requisite visa.