President Donald Trump told H-1B visa holders to “rest assured” because “changes are soon coming which will bring both simplicity and certainty” to their status in the United States in a tweet early Friday. But it’s unclear whether the revisions he has in store will put the minds of the 85,000 immigrants brought to the U.S. on skilled work visas each year at ease.
H1-B holders in the United States can rest assured that changes are soon coming which will bring both simplicity and certainty to your stay, including a potential path to citizenship. We want to encourage talented and highly skilled people to pursue career options in the U.S.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2019
What’s changing: Trump may be referring to a proposed rule introduced in December. If enacted, it would require employers to enter an online registry for each worker they want to hire using an H-1B visa before the application period opens. The change would allow immigration officials to review all H-1B applicants, including those with advanced degrees, at the same time, slightly increasing the chances that a higher percentage of the visas will go to more educated workers. The change would also prioritize H-1B applications for workers with advanced degrees from American universities.
Immigration authorities have also pledged to revise the requirements to qualify for an H-1B visa in an effort to curb abuse and move to a more merit-based system.
What’s changed already: The federal government has already made changes to its H-1B approval practices with significant results, part of a broader effort to bridal the legal immigration system. Denials of H-1B visa applications spiked 41 percent between the third and fourth quarters of 2017, according to federal data obtained by the National Foundation for American Policy. Immigration officials are also requesting additional evidence and applying more scrutiny to applications than in the past.
What it means for tech: Big tech companies apply for H-1B visas on behalf of foreign-born workers to fill their talent shortages. The Seattle tech ecosystem is one of the top regions for this type of hiring. Amazon received 2,515 H-1B visas for employees and Microsoft won 1,479 in Fiscal Year 2017.
But American tech corporations aren’t the only beneficiaries of the program. IT staffing firms are often criticized for flooding the lottery with applications, earning a disproportionately high number of visas for workers who are then contracted out to other companies. The Trump administration sees this as abuse of the system, a position shared by leaders in the tech industry like Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
The proposed changes could result in a higher percentage of visas going to American tech companies, according to some experts. “In the annual battle for H-1Bs between IT outsourcing companies and tech companies seeking longer-term workers, this rule would probably help the latter,” Doug Rand, co-founder of Seattle startup Boundless Immigration and a former immigration policy official in the Obama White House, said in November. But after seeing Trump’s tweet Friday, he said that the “administration has used every tool at its disposal to restrict legal immigration across the board” and “it’s no wonder that many companies and immigrants believe that the H-1B program is under siege.”