Originally published by LA Times
The chaos and confusion surrounding America’s immigration system has had an obvious impact on the lives of immigrants and their families – but it’s also hurting American businesses. Take, for example, the many recent last-minute changes to a visa process that directly affects American employers.
Because of a shortage of skilled American workers in certain industries, such as technology and healthcare, many U.S. businesses rely on the option to hire talented professionals from abroad through the H-1B visa. The visa is a win-win for companies that need to fill gaps in their workforce and for immigrants who are hoping to build better lives for themselves by pursuing the American dream.
Each fiscal year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reserves 20,000 H-1B visas for applicants with a U.S. master’s degree or higher. Some 65,000 visas are available to those with a bachelor’s degree or higher. USCIS has received a surplus of applications for the past several years, resulting in a lottery type system.
In January, the Trump administration issued a new rule that will significantly alter the H-1B lottery process starting April 1 of this year: USCIS will reverse its process with applicants first vying for the 65,000 visas, thus giving those with U.S. advanced degrees a “second bite at the apple.” While prioritizing advanced degree professionals is not an inherently bad idea, this could have unintended consequences by penalizing U.S. businesses that employ professionals in positions where a master's degree is not typically required, such as teachers, business managers and information technologists.
Adding to the chaos was last year’s suspension of the premium processing option for H-1Bs, which allows employers to pay an extra fee to have an answer within 15 days rather than the standard wait time of about four months. While premium processing was recently reinstated, the effects of the unexpected 10-month suspension have already impacted U.S. businesses that were unable to plan for it.
USCIS said the suspension was put in place to address its application backlog, but that backlog has only increased. According to an analysis of USCIS data by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the agency’s overall average case processing time surged by 46 percent over the past two fiscal years and 91 percent since FY 2014. Case processing times also increased substantially in FY 2018 even as case receipt volume appeared to markedly decrease.
We are facing a broken immigration system. We tell immigrants to get in line; however, we have created a line that is not moving. The uncertainty within the process creates an added layer of confusion not only for immigrants, but for U.S. businesses.
Immediate steps must be taken to increase transparency around USCIS operations, including strengthened Congressional oversight. The current state of the immigration process isn’t making America any safer or greater.