Business advocacy groups and tech companies worry that the Trump administration’s order restricting international travel from certain countries could be just the first step in a broader immigration crackdown that could stifle economic growth and make it harder for employers to compete.
“American employers rely on a mobile workforce and legitimate international business travel to function in the modern global economy,” said Lynn Shotwell, executive director of the Council for Global Immigration, an affiliate of the Society for Human Resource Management.
Global employers also say they’re worried about the administration’s next possible executive order target: An overhaul of the work-visa programs that annually let tens of thousands of foreign employees come to work in the United States.
H-1B visas are designed to make it easier for U.S. employers to hire highly skilled foreign workers, ostensibly for jobs they cannot otherwise fill. This year, employers will seek visas for almost 250,000 workers, most of them in the high-tech sector. However, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will only issue about 85,000 H-1Bs this year, via a lottery that ends April 1.
During the campaign, Trump decried the H-1B system for taking jobs from U.S. workers. The proposed changes from his administration could include fewer visas and more intense vetting of visa applicants. Some offiicals have advocated scrapping the lottery system that decides who gets visas. Instead, H-1Bs would go only to employees immigrating to fill very high-paying jobs, on the theory that such a sorting system would displace few American workers.
A draft executive order is circulating at the White House, but action is unlikely until legal wrangling over the current travel ban is resolved.
The administration is already making one change: Effective April 3, the country is temporarily suspending expedited processing of H-1B visas, which will eliminate the option the option of shorter wait times for employers. The expedited process—which requires an additional $1,225 fee—ensures a response from USCIS in 15 days. Standard applications can take between three and six months. This suspension could last up to six months.
Tip for employers: Now is not the time to get sloppy with your immigration paperwork. The Trump Administration will be looking for employers to serve as a "virtual wall" against undocumented immigrants. As Shotwell notes, “one of the biggest issues immigration and HR professionals are facing in the short term is the risk of enhanced scrutiny of our compliance practices."
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