Plagued by growing complaints of fraud and abuse, America’s so-called high-tech visa program is getting closer scrutiny from federal agents, and more rejections.
After cruising through the first few months of the Trump administration, H-1B applications for foreign workers are hitting new roadblocks, ranging from increased requests for additional documentation to outright denials.
From July 1-Sept. 30, 2017, the RFE (Request for Evidence) rate jumped to 69 percent of all H-1B petitions, with more than 20 percent denied, according to the nonpartisan National Foundation for American Policy.
By comparison, only 17 percent of H-1B petitions were subjected to RFEs during President Obama’s last months in office. That means RFEs soared more than 400 percent within nine months of President Donald Trump moving into the White House.
Going forward, tougher vetting appears to be having an effect: H-1B applications for fiscal 2019 are down, even as the U.S. economy heats up.
H-1B visas are available to foreign nationals “to perform services in a specialty occupation, services of exceptional merit and ability.” Over the years, parameters have expanded to include fashion models and other not-so-high-tech endeavors.
Some 65,000 H-1Bs are allotted each year for workers with bachelor’s degrees, and 20,000 more are earmarked for those with master’s degrees or higher. Universities and research organizations are exempt from the caps.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which administers the program, admits that H-1B has had problems.
“Too many American workers who are as qualified, willing, and deserving to work in these fields have been ignored or unfairly disadvantaged,” USCIS states on its website.
Over the past year, USCIS has received over 5,000 e-mails reporting various forms of fraud, abuse and wage slavery involving H-1Bs.
In a recent court case, federal prosecutors say a dozen Indian nationals at a San Francisco area tech firm were promised salaries of up to $8,300 a month, but after the company imported them via H-1Bs, they were paid as little as $800.
The USCIS crackdown on H-1B scams took hold after Trump issued his “Buy American, Hire American” executive order in April 2017. The order doesn’t end the H-1B program, but attempts to mend it by enforcing legal standards that ensure U.S. workers come first. As the president directed:
“To create higher wages and employment rates for workers in the United States, and to protect their economic interests, it shall be the policy of the executive branch to rigorously enforce and administer the laws governing entry into the United States of workers from abroad.”
Last summer, FAIR quoted a federal official as saying H-1B “is going on as it was. In fact, we issued more H-1B visas to Indians this year than we did last year.”
He’s not saying that any more.