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Despite Trump Administration Promises, Some H-1B Visa Seekers Say the Program Is Under Assault

In January, President Donald Trump vowed to improve the visa application process for highly-skilled foreign workers seeking H-1B visas. But according to new reporting from the Associated Press, immigrants with specialized skills are seeing their work visa applications get stuck in lengthy processing queues, or denied altogether. And that’s starting to impact how businesses operate and what kind of labor shortages some expect to see in the coming years.

According to the AP, one Minnesota architect estimated his firm turned away around $1 million worth of work in 2018 because they simply did not have enough qualified people on staff to handle the responsibilities. Individual H-1B visa seekers reported having their lengthy, detailed applications denied by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) after what some immigration lawyers say is an increased demand for evidence to prove their cases.

Annually, 85,000 H-1B visas are allotted for approval, meaning no more than that number will be issued in a single year. And many major companies rely on workers from abroad obtaining H-1B visas to fully staff up as domestic labor shortages continue to increase. In 2016, for example, 20 companies sponsored a whopping 37% of all workers with H-1B visas to work in the U.S. Of the top 30 organizations that sponsored the most H-1Bs, more than one third were Fortune 500 companies. But it isn’t just top firms submitting applications. In 2016, more than 40,000 companies submitted H-1B applications for that fiscal year.

In August, dozens of chief executives representing top American firms including American Express, Apple, and AT&T—that’s just some in the A section of the lengthy list—wrote an open letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to express what they called “our serious concern about changes in immigration policy that are causing considerable anxiety for many thousands of our employees while threatening to disrupt company operations.” They wrote that USCIS had changed policies, which impacted workers with application filings and renewals in process and simply created too much uncertainty for many workers and their families to bear. The authors noted, “Inconsistent immigration policies are unfair and discourage talented and highly skilled individuals from pursuing career opportunities in the United States.”