IMMIGRATION: Agency Actions Attempt to Chip Away at Worker Visas as Legislative Deadlock Continues

August 29, 2017

Despite ample economic evidence of the benefits foreign-born workers bring to American companies, communities, workers, and the American economy, an approach to immigration responsive to the needs of the American workforce remains out of favor in Washington.  Thus far, no politically viable legislation on non-immigrant worker visas or immigrant workers seems to have been put forward.  With immigration reform on the horizon, however, it is becoming increasingly important that the employer community's voice is heard on this topic.  Consequently, the Association will soon be releasing a white paper representing the perspectives of CHROs on immigration.  
Non-immigrant Work Visas  Various executive orders and bills have aimed at reducing the number of non-immigrant work visa holders in the U.S. under the assumption that they crowd out jobs for native workers.  From the early stages of President Trump's campaign, the H-1B visa has been a favorite target.  Although no legislation has come close to making its way to the President's desk, actions by various agencies seem to have succeeded in undercutting the H-1B petition process, and further restrictions to non-immigrant work visa holders and their families could be on the horizon, such as removing the work permit from H-4 visa holders (the spouses of H-1B workers).  Perhaps because of such activity, applications have been approved at a rate of 58 percent this year, down from last year's rate of 87 percent.  However, the visas remain highly valued, with more than 300,000 visa petitions and extension applications submitted to date, compared to just under 400,000 being submitted in all of 2016.  
Skills-based Immigration Vetting  President Trump has twice endorsed a bill intended to drastically reduce yearly legal immigration levels and refocus the green card process on merit.  While the legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate and a low chance of becoming law, its provisions are indicative of current thinking among some Republicans on immigration.  Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), who co-authored the measure, said it would mandate that green card applicants be considered "based on education, English-language ability, high-paying job offers, age, record of extraordinary achievement, and entrepreneurial initiative."  Conversely, the bill targets programs that President Trump claims have tended to admit low-skill immigrants, such as those extending green cards to extended family members of legal U.S. residents.