Donald Trump came into office promising a restrictive new approach to immigration and there has been little question about his intention to follow through — with one seeming exception. Despite its enthusiastic rhetoric about the H-1B program, which provides temporary visas to high-skilled workers, the administration failed to make significant changes in time to impact the program’s annual lottery this April, leaving some who had anticipated action fuming. It has also declined to take up any of the legislative proposals for H-1B overhaul.
But a crackdown has been in the works, albeit more quietly. Starting this summer, employers began noticing that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was challenging an unusually large number of H-1B applications. Cases that would have sailed through the approval process in earlier years ground to a halt under requests for new paperwork. The number of challenges — officially known as “requests for evidence” or RFEs — are up 44 percent compared to last year, according to statistics from USCIS. The percentage of H-1B applications that have resulted in RFEs this year are at the highest level they’ve been since 2009, and by absolute number are considerably higher than any year for which the agency provided statistics.
The H-1B program is controversial largely because IT firms based in India have used it to hire for rote computer programming jobs. These firms, like Infosys Ltd. and Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., have been working to reduce their reliance on the program, in anticipation of a less receptive political landscape. The overall number of H-1B applications dropped this year for the first time in five years. The skeptical eye the government is taking to applications has extended to all types of employers, according to immigration lawyers. Many are rethinking their own use of H-1B as a result.