Bilal Aliyar m/Shutterstock
More H-1B visas are being granted to US tech companies, whereas India-based outsourcing firms are receiving fewer of them, according to an analysis of government data on 2017 H-1B allocations from the National Foundation for American Policy. This trend, the NFAP argues in its policy brief, “reflect[s] the strong demand for high-skilled talent” in the US and “would appear to undermine the argument that the federal government should impose new restrictions on H-1B visas.”
The Trump administration has indeed been determined to restrict the use of these visas, which are awarded to highly skilled foreign workers to fill gaps in the US labor market, as part of President Donald Trump’s overall anti-immigration posture. While only an act of Congress can fundamentally restructure of the program and Trump’s desired rule changes have not yet been enacted, the administration has subtly undermined it by suspending premium processing two years in a row, tightening approval standards, and proposing to end work authorization for H-4 visa holders, the spouses of H-1B workers (a plan the administration reaffirmed this week).
It is difficult to say with certainty, however, whether the shift observed in the NFAP’s research is a rebuke of the Trump administration’s crackdown or a consequence of it. It may reflect the changing strategies of major Indian outsourcing companies since Trump’s election, which portended a change in H-1B policy and made it riskier for these firms to rely on the visas. Infosys, India’s second-largest IT services and outsourcing company and one of the leading users H-1Bs, announced plans last year to hire 10,000 US citizen employees and open new innovation hubs throughout the US. Infosys said at the time that this decision predated the Trump administration, but it still serves to guard against a scenario in which the supply of H-1B visas was curtailed.
Some observers see the gravitation of H-1Bs away from outsourcing companies as a response to the Trump administration’s policies, or even a sign that these policies are working. Axios’s Stef Kight captured both sides of the debate in her reporting:
Bilal Aliyar m/Shutterstock
The application period for H-1B temporary skilled worker visas came and went last week, with US Citizenship and Immigration Services reaching its petition cap this year within five days of the application period opening on April 2, CNet reported on Friday. In a process that has become commonplace in recent years, demand for the 85,000 highly-coveted visas issued each year quickly surpassed the number available, prompting USCIS to stop accepting applications. The visas will be awarded by lottery and the recipients will be eligible to come to the US and start working in October.
Nobody is particularly in favor of the H-1B lottery system. Advocates of a more liberal immigration policy consider the annual limit arbitrary and far too low, as in this statement reported by CNet:
“That’s it for the entire year for our nation’s ability to bring in the best and brightest individuals through the H-1B program to come create American jobs,” Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, a US lobby in favor of immigration reform, said in a statement. “In addition to forcing us to miss out on the creation of American jobs, these arbitrary limits will stifle medical innovation and wage growth, and will hurt our economy.”
At the other end of the spectrum, however, are critics who say the US issues too many of these visas and is insufficiently selective in how it awards them, such as President Donald Trump, who rode into Washington last year vowing to reform the H-1B system as part of a broader effort to reduce both legal and illegal immigration to the US. In his “Buy American, Hire American” executive order issued a year ago, Trump called for changes to the program to crack down on what he described as fraud and abuse, and advocated awarding the visas based on merit rather than by a random lottery.
Nonetheless, the Wall Street Journal reports, this round of H-1B applications visas is being distributed without the major changes Trump has requested.
Mercer’s latest Workforce Monitor report points to what the consultancy calls an “unprecedented labor shortage” in the UK in the coming years as declining immigration reveals the extent to which an aging population is shrinking the country’s domestic workforce, challenging employers to find new avenues for growth in a limited talent market. Neil Franklin parses their research at Workplace Insight:
Mercer anticipates the UK workforce will increase by just 820,000, or 2.4 percent, by 2025, a significant reduction in recent trends that have seen 9 percent workforce growth in the 10 years to 2015. For the first time in half a century, the overall population will be increasing at a faster rate than the workforce, creating long term structural challenges for the economy. …
Mercer also expects there to be a significant shift in age demographics across the workforce. Projections suggest that over the next eight years there will be 300,000 fewer workers under the age of 30 and 1 million more over 50 in the UK as a result of falling net migration and ageing baby-boomers. This is likely to have a particular impact on London, whose economy is heavily dependent on young and migrant labour. Mercer forecasts that London’s resident under 30s worker population will fall by 25%, whilst over 50s will increase by 25%.
Mercer’s projections are the latest in a series of dire warnings about the likelihood of labor shortages after the UK’s scheduled exit from the EU next year. A report from the CIPD last year found that the country likely cannot meet its labor needs without access to foreign talent, which Brexit is expected to sharply curtail. Uncertainty over future immigration policies have left British employers worried about how they will meet their future talent needs in the absence of spare capacity and a tight domestic labor market.
In what looks like the Trump administration’s latest effort to tighten the US border by subjecting entrants to greater scrutiny, the State Department announced in the Federal Register on Friday that it was proposing to require that people seeking both immigrant and non-immigrant visas provide consular officials with additional information, including their social media accounts from the past five years, Ana Campoy reports at Quartz:
“This is an indirect way that the Trump administration is trying to limit immigration to the US that does not require for them to go to Congress,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law professor at Cornell University, of the proposed rules.
The US had already been requesting social-media information from people suspected to represent a national security threat. That policy targeted a sliver of travelers to the US—about 65,000. The new measures would cover nearly 15 million people. Along with the handles, the State Department is also asking for a five-year history of email addresses, telephone numbers, and international trips.
The proposals must be approved by the Office of Management and Budget after a 60-day public comment period, so these new requirements will not come into effect until this summer at the earliest, but if they do, Campoy surmises, it may make some people think twice about traveling to the US. The American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement condemning the proposals as “ineffective and deeply problematic”:
Personnel Today’s Jo Faragher flags some new data from Monster.co.uk showing that the total number of searches for jobs in the UK out of other EU countries has declined 11 percent since the June 2016 referendum in which UK citizens voted to exit the union:
[W]orkers of Romanian nationality are the least keen to come to Britain to work, with Romanian search traffic for UK jobs dropping by 52%. This was closely followed by Portuguese searches, which dropped by 42%, and Polish by 35%. Searches from UK jobseekers continue to make up 80% of traffic to the job site.
At the same time, however, job searches by Swedish candidates went up by a fifth, and Finnish jobseekers by 18%. Monster also reported a rise in searches from some countries outside the EU – including the US and the Philippines.
Romania and Portugal are believed to be among the most common nationalities of EU citizens living in the UK, along with Poland (the largest by far), Ireland, and Italy, according to data from the Office of National Statistics. While net migration from the EU to the UK remained positive last year, the net figure of 90,000 in the year to September 2017 was the lowest since 2012.
The omnibus spending bill passed by Congress late last week and signed into law by President Donald Trump includes a provision allowing the administration to nearly double the number of H-2B visas available for US employers to hire temporary foreign workers this year to 129,547, Vox reported on Friday:
Last year, Congress allowed the Department of Homeland Security to issue more H-2B visas in 2017, as long as it didn’t surpass the highest number of H-2B visas ever issued in a year,which was 129,547 in 2007 (back then, returning H-2B workers weren’t counted in the visa cap). The agency ended up issuing an extra 15,000 in July last year, which was a low figure because the summer season was already halfway done. Congress made the same exception for the department this year. …
Competition for the visas has been fierce this year. The Department of Labor says it is swamped with applications from businesses that want to hire guest workers for the summer. By January 1, the department had received requests to hire 81,008 H-2B workers for the summer season — far beyond the 33,000 originally allowed. In February, a coalition of businesses that hire H-2B workers lobbied Congress to lift the cap again. It appears Congress heard them.
The expansion of the program comes as American companies in seasonal industries like hospitality are being pressed to compete more aggressively for temporary workers in the coming spring and summer season. While these employees don’t normally have the leverage to negotiate for higher pay, they are taking advantage of the tight labor market to demand more flexibility and control over their schedules. Last summer, some employers complained that Trump’s restrictive immigration policies were contributing to labor shortages and costing them business. The expansion of the H-2B program should help alleviate some of this pressure, but the new cap still falls well short of the number of applications that come in each year.
Bilal Aliyar m/Shutterstock
For the second year in a row, US Citizenship and Immigration Services has suspended premium processing for all cap-subject petitions for H-1B visas during the filing season for fiscal year 2019, which begins on April 2, Roy Maurer reports at SHRM:
“Premium processing will be delayed … to give USCIS sufficient time to take in the expected large numbers of filings,” said Scott J. FitzGerald, a partner in the Boston office of the global immigration law firm Fragomen. “We do not anticipate that this will delay notification of whether such cases have been selected in the H-1B lottery. Instead, this will delay the time in which the case is approved, subject to a request for evidence, or denied.” …
“The fact that USCIS is only now finishing up its processing of H-1B cap cases filed at this time last year is absolutely unprecedented,” FitzGerald said. “These delays are presumably related to the substantial increase in the issuance of RFEs for those cases. The fact that these cases, filed under regular processing, are receiving final determinations almost a year after they have been filed and almost five months after the requested start date [Oct. 1] is disappointing and seems a clear reflection of the agency’s new and tougher mission statement.”
Quartz’s Ananya Bhattacharya adds that the suspension will likely have a negative impact on the India-based outsourcing firms like Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services that are the most extensive users of the H-1B program, as well as the Silicon Valley tech companies that count on skilled foreign workers hired on these visas to meet their insatiable demand for talent.