We Need Every Doctor and Researcher We Can Get Right Now. It’s Time to Cut H-1B Visa Red Tape.
President Donald Trump has said he is directing federal medical bureaucracies to cut any red tape that might be hampering new tests and better drugs to fight the novel coronavirus. While he’s at it, he should direct immigration bureaucracies to do the same. America can’t afford to spurn scientific talent right now.
The H-1B visa program that allows companies to hire foreign technical talent has always been woefully inadequate. The annual visa cap—65,000 for professionals and 25,000 for foreign students graduating from American universities—fills within weeks of opening every April. That means companies that don’t land a visa have to wait another year when they can play the lottery again.
Most hires can’t simply sit around, so they leave for better climes elsewhere—especially Canada, which has become a popular destination for spurned H-1B applicants. Now more than ever, the coronavirus crisis means the U.S. and the world can’t afford to let this happen. Whatever the case for restricting travel by infected foreigners, foreign researchers developing treatments and foreign health care professionals fighting to save American lives should be allowed to stay in the country if they are here and fast-tracked in if they are not.
That will require Trump to undo the damage his administration has done to America’s ability to recruit talented foreigners and put more welcoming policies in place.
Thanks to Trump’s 2017 Buy American and Hire American directive, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service massively increased the red tape for the H-1B program. Why? Because it wanted to ensure that immigrants wouldn’t land any job that an American can do—never mind that STEM graduates have been in short supply for years with jobs going a-begging. To this end, it started issuing twice as many “requests for evidence,” requiring employers to furnish even more documentation than usual that they absolutely needed a foreign-born worker for a job. And it started rejecting more applications. The upshot has been more delays and denials.
The denial rate for new H-1Bs in 2016 before Trump’s directive was 10 percent. Last year? 24 percent. Worse: H-1B renewals used to be a pro-forma matter, but now they are being treated like new applications. So their denial rate has spiked from 4 percent in 2016 to 18 percent in the first quarter of 2019
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