Guest worker visas are being denied at record rates

Gustavo Solis, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Business News

Denial rates for high-skilled worker visas have quadrupled since 2015, a trend that makes it much harder for companies that rely on these workers to find and retain talent.

According to data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, denial rates for first-time H-1B visa applicants increased from 6% to 24% between fiscal years 2015 and 2018. And the trend is growing.

Through the first half of fiscal year 2019, USCIS denied 33% of initial H-1B visa applications, data shows.

H-1B visas are highly sought-after work visas for high-skilled workers like computer engineers and programmers. Each April, USCIS receives about 200,000 applications for only 85,000 visas. There are two types of H-1B visas -- initial applications for new employees and continuing applications for renewals or employees who change jobs.

The reason behind this trend are new policies that the Trump administration introduced to protect American workers by preventing fraud. These new policies placed greater scrutiny on applications and raised the standards for awarding and renewing foreign worker visas, according to the National Foundation for American Policy, a non-partisan nonprofit that recently analyzed USCIS's own data.

"We had been hearing that companies had experienced more denials, but until you put the numbers together, it became clear how large a change in policy there had been and how big of an impact it's having," said Stuart Anderson, the executive director for the National Foundation for American Policy.


Anderson said the denials hurt companies in two ways. First, it limits growth because companies cannot hire new employees. Second it jeopardizes quality control because experienced employees who are denied their visa renewal have to stop working.

"And, on a personal level, it can really have a negative impact on an organization to lose people who have been working there for many years," he added.

Some of the country's most profitable and well-known companies have had more H-1B visa applications denied.

Microsoft, IBM, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Wal-Mart, Google, Amazon and Facebook all had their worker visa denial rates increase between 2015 and the first half of 2019, according to data from USCIS.


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