Business groups wary of Trump’s visa, immigration plans

Business advocacy groups and tech companies worry that the Trump administration’s order restricting international travel from certain countries could be just the first step in a broader immigration crackdown that could stifle economic growth and make it harder for employers to compete.

“American employers rely on a mobile workforce and legitimate international business travel to function in the modern global economy,” said Lynn Shotwell, executive director of the Council for Global Immigration, an affiliate of the Society for Human Resource Management.

Global employers also say they’re worried about the administration’s next possible executive order target: An overhaul of the work-visa programs that annually let tens of thousands of foreign employees come to work in the United States.

H-1B visas are designed to make it easier for U.S. employers to hire highly skilled foreign workers, ostensibly for jobs they cannot otherwise fill. This year, employers will seek visas for almost 250,000 workers, most of them in the high-tech sector. However, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will only issue about 85,000 H-1Bs this year, via a lottery that ends April 1.

During the campaign, Trump decried the H-1B system for taking jobs from U.S. workers. The proposed changes from his administration could include fewer visas and more intense vetting of visa applicants. Some offiicals have advocated scrapping the lottery system that decides who gets visas. Instead, H-1Bs would go only to employees immigrating to fill very high-paying jobs, on the theory that such a sorting system would displace few American workers.

A draft executive order is circulating at the White House, but action is unlikely until legal wrangling over the current travel ban is resolved.

The administration is already making one change: Effective April 3, the country is temporarily suspending expedited processing of H-1B visas, which will eliminate the option the option of shorter wait times for employers. The expedited process—which requires an additional $1,225 fee—ensures a response from USCIS in 15 days. Standard applications can take between three and six months. This suspension could last up to six months.

Tip for employers: Now is not the time to get sloppy with your immigration paperwork. The Trump Administration will be looking for employers to serve as a “virtual wall” against undocumented immigrants. As Shotwell notes, “one of the biggest issues immigration and HR professionals are facing in the short term is the risk of enhanced scrutiny of our compliance practices.”


Understanding the basics of U.S. work-related visas

So you rely in part on foreign employees who are in the United States on work visas or who hold green cards? Then it’s time to brush up on the various types of visas and what the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Labor require of noncitizen workers.

The Trump administration shows every intention of making sure that everyone in the country is here legally and that employers are following the rules. Here’s a summary of what’s required for two common kinds of visas employees might hold:

Green cards: Lawful permanent residents are allowed to live and work indefinitely in the United States. Generally, green card holders can retain visas as long as they want, or until they petition to become U.S. citizens. If you helped an employee become a green card holder through a labor certification, make sure you followed the rules. 

H-1B visas: This common work authorization for foreign citizens lets an individual hold a specific job for a specific time frame. An H-1B is not an immigration visa. It does not confer a right to remain in the country if the individual is no longer employed in the specific job for which the visa was granted. An H-1B visa is good for three years, renewable for up to six years. Employers must certify that they cannot find a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to perform the job in order to obtain an H-1B visa. Generally, the foreign employee must have at least a college degree.

For employers, the most important step right now may be to make sure each foreign employee holds a valid visa and that your organization followed the proper procedures to obtain work authorization.

Consult an experienced immigration attorney for advice on how to comply with complex visa rules that are sure to be in the compliance spotlight in coming months.