An H1-B Work Visa Application with barbed wire in the background


The Immigration Issue No One Is Talking About

H-1B visa holders may not be Trump's main targets, but any foreign resident should feel wary of this administration's attack on immigrants.

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Are we in or out?

Foreign tech workers who are hired as H-1B visa holders are likely asking this question as the Trump administration determines how to enforce the Buy American and Hire American executive order signed in April 2017. Under this visa, American companies can recruit and employ skilled and specialized foreign workers in math, science, tech, and other industries. Although this proposed legislation isn’t getting play in the headlines, it is part of sweeping immigration “reform” to make America great again.

Much of the nation’s interest is centered on DACA, with the most recent deportation of Jorge Garcia capturing the country’s attention. Deported on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, under Donald Trump’s immigration policy, Garcia returned to Mexico, despite the fact that he had a clean record and had been living and paying taxes in the United States for 30 years. He leaves his family behind not knowing when he can return. With the Department of Justice asking the Supreme Court to actively review DACA, there isn’t a definitive answer on what will happen to DREAMers, young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children, whose fate remains uncertain since Democrats are leaving it up to Senate Republicans as a concession to reopen the government following its recent shutdown.

While DACA and building a border wall are both measures that focus on illegal immigration, the H-1B executive order throws darts at those individuals who are in this country legally, a passive-aggressive move very few are talking about. Given Trump’s track record, every immigrant must ask the question: “Am I next?” With the constant thrum of unpresidential demeanor and racist rhetoric, it is impossible to ignore a president who works toward one goal: To corrode America’s melting pot. Let us count all the ways Trump works toward this goal.

Attacking H-1B visa holders is another extension of this anti-immigrant policy. And just because it isn’t well-documented or publicized in the media, doesn’t mean its impact is less important.

The aim of this executive order is to conduct a comprehensive review of how American companies hire highly specialized and skilled foreign workers, especially in the tech sector. According to the Pew Research Center, the demand for highly skilled workers has seen a steady climb, with almost 200,000 individuals applying for these coveted visas in 2018. There is a cap—Congress typically issues 85,000 visas, although this number has fluctuated in previous years. Under the Immigration Act established in 1990, United States businesses are permitted to hire foreign workers for highly skilled and technical work on a temporary basis, typically for three to six years. Recipients are eligible to apply for an extension once this initial time period is up, and some employers may choose to sponsor these individuals for a green card.

Historically there is a tremendous backlog for those seeking a green card and many H-1B visa recipients reside in the United States for several years waiting for permanent status to be granted. Estimates indicate there are approximately 1 million H-1B visa holders who hold jobs in the United States. Many of these individuals are employed by the tech sector and leaders are openly stating that the U.S. immigration policy is hurting their businesses. If H-1B visa applicants are forced to wait for an inordinate amount of time, the United States risks losing top talent to other countries, like Canada and the United Kingdom. The increased anti-immigrant policy is already taking a toll on the number of students who want to apply to study computer science and engineering in the U.S. Those numbers are down and major tech companies such as Microsoft rely on those students because there aren’t enough STEM candidates in the United States. There is a real risk that America could fall behind in leading industries centering on science and computer technology.

But earlier this month, increased chatter centered on ending H-1B extensions, thus creating a frenzied but justified panic among visa holders waiting on their green cards. The termination of these extensions would mean many of these individuals would have to “self-deport” back to their countries of origin, no matter how long they’ve lived here. Many H-1B visa holders have resided in the United States for many years, have American-born children, and have presumably worked for the same employer for an ample amount of time. The population impacted most by this legislation are Indian immigrants, who constitute more than half of H-1B visa holders in the United States.

According to Pew, there are approximately 3.2 million Indian Americans living in the U.S. In addition, Indians represent the largest ethnic group legally immigrating to the United States. This influx is attributed to the immigration waves that took place starting in the 1700s. This trend continued in the 1950s and when the immigration quota was eliminated in 1965, larger populations of Indian immigrants arrived in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The technology boom also welcomed the largest number of Indians between 1995 and 2000.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate Indians outpace every socioeconomic group in the United States. More than 80 percent of all Indian Americans hold a bachelor’s or advanced degree. Most Indian Americans are affluent and although they comprise only 0.9 percent of the total population, their income is 1.7 times more than the general population. So why would this administration focus on a group that is historically economically beneficial for the United States? Will the shortsightedness of MAGA deport the very workers advancing our most valuable industries?

The trend of the current administration is difficult to predict, especially when it applies to immigration “reform.” In an effort to “Buy American, Hire American,” the Trump administration fails to consider the overall impact on employers. Several high-profile companies, such as Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Netflix rely heavily on foreign workers for their industries. The tech industry employs 64.5 percent of all H-1B visa holders. The remaining 35 percent is split between architecture, engineering, medicine and other specialized industries. By 2020, it is estimated there will be 1.4 million computer- and tech-related jobs available in the United States, but only 29 percent of American workers will be able to fill this need. Where are they going to look for qualified candidates? Wouldn’t this kind of legislation push employers to set up work arrangements out of the country to accommodate their needs, which effectively eliminates the “Buy American, Hire American” goal? Companies like Baxter, Pfizer, Boston Scientific, Johnson & Johnson, Facebook, Google, Twitter and other tech companies have set up operations in Ireland to capitalize on the low tax rate–now these companies have an increased incentive to add more employees overseas. Pressure from the tech industry and lobbyists, as well as the growing apprehension in the H-1B community, pushed Republican Representative Kevin Yoder from Kansas and Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard to send Trump a letter, asking him to reconsider deporting H-1B visa holders waiting for their green cards.

Within a week, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services decided to elaborate on their intention regarding any changes and issued the following statement:

“USCIS is not considering a regulatory change that would force H-1B visa holders to leave the United States by changing our interpretation of section 104(c) of AC-21, which provides for H-1B extensions beyond the 6-year limit.”

The administration appeared to switch its stance on H-1B holders and clarified its stance on “self-deportation.” Perhaps this role reversal arrived behind the scenes from employers in the tech industry pressuring the administration to evaluate how this might immediately impact filling highly specialized roles company-wide. What interest would an immigrant have to settle or take up permanent residence if he or she isn’t offered a chance to live in the United States permanently? How would it impact an individual’s role in the company? Ultimately, how would it influence a company’s productivity? Of course, these are all questions that aren’t pondered when careless “reform” is instituted by a president that doesn’t think in terms of long-term consequences. The result of this careless policy will mean that the United States won’t be able to recruit the best talent, and potentially it will fall behind in the industries of innovation.

H-1B visa holders need to remain vigilant. If DACA is overturned, then it is only a matter of months before the administration turns its attention to create an environment unfavorable to legal immigrants. Already, the process to obtain an H-1B visa is more stringent. The administration is increasing “requests for evidence” (RFE) for applicants, thus making the process longer and deliberately more cumbersome. Those attorneys who represent applicants allege that many of the additional requests are unwarranted and unjustified and simply a way to stall the process and make it more expensive for American employers to hire foreign workers. With an increase in RFE’s, obtaining a H-1B visa is turning into more of a dream than a reality. If the administration continues to advocate for policies that are against legal immigration, talented workers will redirect their skills to other countries. Ultimately, the United States will falter in its competitive edge.

That isn’t a win for America.

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