It’s harder to get an H-1B visa than it used to be — and the spouses of those who do get approvals could soon lose permission to work in the U.S.
U.S. immigration officials are making changes to the H-1B visa program, which many big tech companies use to hire workers from other countries for jobs that require specific skills.
The policy changes are part of President Donald Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” agenda, which seeks to prioritize American labor and reduce abuse in the legal immigration system.
What’s new: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services approved fewer petitions for H-1B visas last year and requested additional evidence in applications more frequently than in years prior. In fiscal year 2018, USCIS approved 85 percent of petitions companies filed on behalf of immigrant employees, according to the agency’s data. That’s down from 93 percent the year before and 94 percent in fiscal year 2016. USCIS asked for additional evidence in 38 percent of H-1B petitions, up from 21 percent in fiscal year 2017. The data include companies petitioning to extend H-1B visas for employees who already have them.
There’s more: Last week, the Department of Homeland security took the first steps toward eliminating work authorization for the spouses of H-1B visa holders. The draft rule would prevent about 100,000 spouses from working in the U.S.
The takeaway: The Trump administration says its goal is to cut down on abuse of the H-1B, a goal supported by many in the tech industry who are frustrated by so-called “outsourcing” firms flooding the lottery used to award the visas. “Ensuring the integrity of the immigration benefits system is one of this administration’s guiding principles,” said USCIS spokesperson Jessica Collins in a statement.
American tech companies are reaping rewards. In fiscal year 2018, 98-99 percent of petitions from Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook were approved while IT staffing firms received approvals between 60-80 percent, according to USCIS data.