Critics of the H-1B program have complained that the Trump
administration’s attempts at reform have been minor and ineffective. But is
that actually true?
When we look at data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), we can see that the approval rate of H-1B petitions has dipped significantly since late 2016. (Hat tip to Quartz for putting this data in a handy CSV format.)
In tandem with the approval rate dipping, the percentage of H-1B applications hit with requests for evidence (RFEs) has crept steadily upwards, indicating that the Trump administration’s requests for greater scrutiny of visas are being followed within USCIS:
Other reports indeed seem to indicate that the Trump
administration’s tweaks are having an impact. In the most recent HackerRank DevSkills report, for instance, roughly a
quarter of surveyed tech pros said the administration’s immigration policies
had discouraged them or someone they know from applying to jobs in the U.S. Moreover,
nearly one-fifth (17.20 percent) reported they were unable to get a visa to
work in the United States.
Many of the changes to the H-1B program stem from President Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” executive order, which he signed two years ago. Since then, the government has suspended premium processing of H-1B petitions (before resuming it), signaled an intention to kill H-4 EAD, and planned to completely change how the H-1B lottery is run.
But Trump himself has also suggested a willingness to keep the H-1B program running (which would reverse his campaign-trail position that the visa was “very bad” for American workers and should be killed). In January, he Tweeted that “changes” to program would “bring both simplicity and certainty to your stay,” as well as a “potential path to citizenship”:
H1-B holders in the United States can rest assured that changes are soon coming which will bring both simplicity and certainty to your stay, including a potential path to citizenship. We want to encourage talented and highly skilled people to pursue career options in the U.S.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2019
It remains to be seen how the H-1B program might change
during the rest of Trump’s term, but in the meantime, visa approvals are
clearly trending down—and have been for some time.