H-1B visa holders had a scare last week when rumors were leaked that the Trump administration was moving to end the visa extension policy. McClatchy Newspapers was first to report this discussion reflected by internal memos at the Department of Homeland Security.
According to an article by the San Francisco chronicle, this move would have mostly affected the hundreds of thousands of working visa holders with pending green card applications, a majority of whom work in the US tech industry.
People often use the H-1B visa (valid for 3 years) as a step towards US permanent residency, but the wait for a green card can take over 10 years. Simply, this visa extension allows H-1B visa holders to remain working in the US during this gap as they wait for permanent residency. Should this extension be removed, not only would hundreds of thousands of people feel their residency in jeopardy, but also their employers would fear the loss of their employees. Even more drastic, if this policy held, companies would be incentivized to not hire foreign workers of any skill level to avoid the inevitable 3-year rehiring cycle.
As reported by Newsweek, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) chief of media relations Jonathan Withington announced this week, “We are not at liberty to discuss any part of the pre-decisional processes; however, all proposed rules published in the federal register and USCIS posts all policy memoranda on our website,” he said.
“What we can say, however, is that 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.”
“Even if it were, such a change would not likely result in these H-1B visa holders having to leave the United States because employers could request extensions in one-year increments under section 106(a)-(b) of AC21 instead,” he added.
In another statement to TechCrunch, Withington mentioned that they’re looking into other possible policy changes in cooperation with the “Buy American, Hire American” executive order that the president signed last April with the intention to bring business investment from abroad to the US. That includes “a thorough review of employment based visa programs,” though USCIS explained the H1-B extension policy was not in jeopardy.
Data published by USCIS shows about 73% of H-1B petitions filed in 2017 were approved (404,087 applications received, 298,445 approved), a drop down from 2016’s numbers, when 399,349 applications were received and 348,162 (about 87%) were approved.
Also, the great majority of H-1B petitions from 2007 to 2017 were filed on behalf of Indian nationals – more than 2.2 million petitions.
Indeed, outside the US, the largest percentage of publications covering these developments are Indian press and media.
Next up, over 300,000 applications were filed on behalf of Chinese-born workers, followed by applicants born in Canada, the Philippines and South Korea.
There is a very strong humanitarian case against eliminating the extension, but let’s not forget the catastrophic economic impacts this could have as well. If the US does not have the skilled workers to replace the workers who would be eventually pushed to leave the US, our economy would not only experience a production slow down but also a lull while US permanent residents and citizens slowly filled the open jobs.