Some lawyers say applications they expected would get approval before President Donald Trump took office are either being challenged or denied
The Trump administration is bringing a new level of scrutiny to a temporary work visa popular among technology firms, costing employers more time and money as they seek to bring foreign workers to the United States.
From January to August 2017, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) sent 85,265 requests for evidence in response to H-1B visa applications, a 45 percent increase compared to the same period a year earlier, agency data show. Immigration lawyers say these requests — made when an application is missing required documents or the agency determines it needs more proof to decide if a worker is eligible for the visa — could even discourage companies and individuals from seeking an H-1B visa in the first place.
“It’s the most nonvisible and yet hugely impactful way to reach people, and it’s freaking people out,” said Cynthia Lange, managing partner for the Northern California practice of Fragomen, an international immigration law firm that works with some of the world’s largest tech firms.
But administration officials say the scrutiny is needed to ensure the integrity of the controversial visa program, which critics say has cost American jobs.
“Everybody that uses a lot of visa workers knew that this was coming,” said Leon Rodriguez, the former director of USCIS, referring to the increased requests for evidence. “The handwriting was on the wall, frankly, before President Trump took office.”
But some lawyers said they felt like a different standard was being applied, compared to previous years. Applications they expected would get approval before President Donald Trump took office are either being challenged or denied.
Overall, about 27 percent of all H-1B visa applications USCIS received in the first eight months of 2017 got a request for evidence. For the same period of the previous year, under the Obama administration, about 19 percent of all H-1B visa applications USCIS received got a request for evidence.
Answering requests for evidence increases the time employers spend on H-1B applications and legal costs for attorneys’ guidance in obtaining and submitting the additional information.
The increased scrutiny of H-1B visa applications could make some companies — especially small businesses with tighter budgets — think twice about hiring foreign workers. But with technology making it easier for employees to work remotely, others are looking at opening offices in Canada, Mexico and other countries, said Tahmina Watson, a Seattle immigration lawyer.