President Trump Under Fire for Inaction on H1B Visa Reform

As we have been discussing the past three months on our blog, President Trump took office with the expressed intention to bring changes to the H1B visa program for skilled foreign workers.  He made the H1B visa a target in his campaign, and part of his promise to make ‘America first’ when it came to foreign competition and protecting US jobs.  Many people thought that he would act quickly to change at least some aspect of the H1B quota and lottery system, in order to prevent the worst abuses from continuing for another year.

The H1B Visa Application Season is Underway with No Changes

As is being reported by the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek, President Trump has failed to bring any significant changes to the H1B visa program as he promised.  The only administrative change is the suspension of Premium Processing which previously gave a sponsor a two-week review period for petitions instead of several months.  Now, that option which cost an additional $1,225, has been suspended for six months for both new and transfer H1B visa petitions.

In truth, that is a miniscule change that will do little to affect the outcome of this year’s lottery.  So, what happened to stall the administration from acting decisively to prevent another year of H1B visa dominance by Indian IT outsourcing companies?

Here are a few possible explanations:

  1. The strong lobbying efforts by business leaders from Silicon Valley and government officials from India may have struck a chord with Trump’s business orientation.  He may have realized that an abrupt change would affect companies that had been planning for the 2018 lottery for over a year, and relied on the current set of qualifications and wage levels.
  2. The administration’s failures on the immigration ban and attempt to repeal Obamacare may have exhausted Trump’s political capital for the time being.  Taking on the H1B visa program was clearly a lesser priority with such large policy moves taking place.
  3. The USCIS may be instructed to conduct the lottery to favor smaller companies and not outsourcing firms, which can all be done behind closed doors with no overt rule changes, since no one knows how the lottery is structured or run anyway.
  4. The lottery will proceed as in past years, with the vast majority of H1B visas being awarded to contract workers for IT outsourcing companies.  This will lead to a new level of political outcry over potential abuse of the program, and will spur quick legislative changes from Congress of the entire program.

How to Prepare for Future H1B Visa Changes

Despite the inaction by Trump on the H1B visa in his first few months in office, hopeful foreign workers should not be celebrating too soon.  There is a strong political movement to change the program focus, no matter how Silicon Valley or India feels about it.  Any skilled foreign professional that wishes to work in the US has to take into account that the program will likely look different next year at this time.  

Soon, we will be posting a guide on how to take a strategic approach to securing an H1B visa in future years, and where to focus your time and efforts.  In the meantime, we will be watching with interest to see how this year’s lottery unfolds in the coming weeks.  How the lottery results appear and the political reaction should tell us a lot about what to expect going forward.

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  • April 3rd, 2017
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