A central pillar of President Donald Trump’s manifesto was increased focus on ‘buying and hiring American’. The President was extremely vocal in his criticism of foreign workers’ programs, specifically the H-1B visa program. Additionally, he also questioned the effectiveness of a lottery-based system as opposed to a meritocratic system, which would focus on keeping the brightest talents, a system which has shown great results in other advanced economies like Canada and Australia.
Advocates of the program are quick to point to the successes enjoyed by the American economy thanks to foreign worker’s coming in and taking up jobs that Americans are either not interested in or are not qualified for. The H-1B program may even be described as a staple for certain industries. Specifically, the tech industry, where highly educated workers, with most holding master’s degrees or higher, are found in abundance. These are high-quality, high-paying jobs, with average compensations of $92,317 in the first six months of 2017.
There is no denying that the H-1B visa is an essential cog in the American economy. Visa holders can be found conducting some of the most basic day-to-day work and even in the higher echelons of the decision-making chain. Today especially, many of the top CEOs and other top members of the hierarchy were previously holders of one of the foreign worker programs. Perhaps even more importantly, many such visa holders have gone on to become employers, hiring Americans in the process and creating jobs for the economy.
That being said, it is flawed to assume the H-1B program comes without faults and frauds. Many companies resort to unfair tactics to game the system and gain advantages in the lottery. Visa hoarding, the practice of applying for excessive visas for future use, is one the most central issues. Similarly, excessive reliance solely on foreign labor and off-site workers unfairly thwarts opportunities for the domestic workforce.
While there have been no new legislative guidances from Washington yet, Trump’s electoral victory certainly raised uncertainty for many corporations that may rely on the worker program, including the ones that might really need it. This year, according to USCIS data released last week, the government has received more than 300,000 H-1B petitions, almost 100,000 less compared to last year – a clear indicator of the government cracking down on fraud, pushing employers to pursue fair and legal tactics.
Lower approval rates can also be observed. In 2016, USCIS approved 87% of the applications. This year, it’s been a little more than 58%. This lower approval rate may not be necessarily be permanent however. This year’s application process has not ended yet. But the USCIS is now rigorously following up with applicants, requesting additional information and legal paperworks. Premium processing, which allows for expedited reviewing of documents, has also been suspended in order to comprehensively process applications.
It seems while the White House continues to address more pressing issues, for a lack of a better term, it has, for now, taken a more subtle approach to counter fraud in the H-1B system. Before the law changes, the existing process has been made more thorough.