As the United States enters its sixth month of restrictions to contain the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the White House and the Citizenship and Immigration Services agency have submitted a new rule to manage the H-1B work visa program. The proposed rule is called “Strengthening the H-1B Nonimmigrant Visa Classification Program;” it is currently being reviewed by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and it is scheduled to go into effect at the end of the year.
Legal analysts who have reviewed the proposed changes to the H-1B program have noticed that it largely consists of making previous arbitrary measures a permanent part of the process. Such measures make the process of obtaining work visas more stringent for both applicants and the employers who sponsor them. We are talking about Requests for Evidence, paperwork, and closer scrutiny of applicants. In other words, the proposal seeks to make the H-1B application and visa issuance process more onerous by default.
The Department of Homeland Security has presented this rule in a manner that could go into effect without going through the public opinion process. This is not unusual for the Trump administration, which has been known to use instruments such as Executive Orders and rushed rules in order to implement them with as little review and friction as possible. What DHS wants is to avoid the potential of being taken to court for visa denials, something that has happened many times during the Trump administration.
As this Wall Street Journal piece explained in late June, the H-1B program has been thrown into disarray during the coronavirus pandemic, and some political analysts believe that this is an explicit effort to curb overall immigration to the U.S. The entire world knows that Trump has always intended to establish a draconian climate for immigration, and this has a lot to do with his inability to build a physical border to prevent illegal border crossings from Mexico.
Trump has taken advantage of the pandemic to appeal to his political base; he has gone on record to explain that he would rather see American citizens getting their jobs back instead of foreign workers once some economic sectors resume their activities.
Many economists agree with political analysts with regard to labeling the anti-immigration measures of the Trump administration as being ineffective and harmful to the American economy. There is little chance that Trump and his White House advisers will change course at this time because the presidential elections are just a couple of months away. As the incumbent candidate seeking reelection, Trump can only rely on his political base to stand a chance of beating former Vice President Joe Biden, who is essentially planning to reform immigration in a manner that is diametrically opposite to the way it has degraded over the last four years.
In the end, H-1B applicants and employers can only hope that the next White House administration will be able to reverse not only the aforementioned rule but also many other measures that have upended the messy immigration system of the U.S.