Temporary skilled workers and the shift from Trump to Biden  

One of the three themes of the Biden’s administration’s approach to immigration is to boost the immigrationg of skilled workers. I decribe here what’s been happening.

Temporary use of skilled workers from overseas is a controversial topic, given as depending on the design and application of the temporary visa program, domestic workers can be thrown out of work to be replaced by foreign workers.  But the U.S. has a history going back to the 1950s of bringing in skilled workers on a temporary basis. My 2013 posting describes some of the history.

On balance, having a temporary system in place should enable employers to acquire skilled help to meet changing demand for certain skills, without having to rely only on permanent visas.  The H-1B program is the primary vehicle for employers to find these workers.

Congress sets annual caps to both temporary (85,000) and permanent employement-based (140,000) immigration.  Altering these caps is, of course, extremely arduous, witnessed by the struggle of Democrats to change other aspects of immigration law in this Congressional session. But the Executive Branch has a lot of descretion.  How these two channels behave and interact is explained in simple terms here.

The Trump administration conducted an assault on the importation of skilled workers under the H-1B program. The details of its tactics, and of court decisions in 2020 which stopped some aspects of the assault, are complex, and can be perused here.

The long story of how Trump attempted to crush the temporary skilled worker program is told by Forbes Magazine’s Stuart Anderson, whose columns are source of some of the content in this posting.

As Anderson observes, H-1B visas are important because they generally represent the only practical way for high-skilled foreign nationals, including international students, to work long-term in the United States and have the chance to become employment-based immigrants and U.S. citizens.

Anderson is exaggerating here. There are, noted above, channels of employment based applications for Green Cards – the EB series, summarized here.  The Biden comprehensive immigration reform bill would keep family green cards flat but employment-related green cards by 285%. Some summary statistics trace the assault and aftermath. H-1B visa applications need to meet criteria set largely by executive action rather than by Congress. Before Trump application denial rates were in the single digits. Under Trump, due to its revising the criteria, they soared to over 20%. After court decisions, then dropped down in FY 2011 to 4%.

The denial rate for new H-1B petitions for initial employment in FY 2021 dropped to 4%, far lower than the denial rate of 24% in FY 2018, 21% in FY 2019 and 13% in FY 2020,

According to Anderson, employers and high-skilled foreign nationals still have many problems. In March 2021, employers filed over 300,000 H-1B registrations for only 85,000 petitions available under the FY 2022 H-1B cap. That means the U.S. government rejected more than 70% of H-1B registrations for high-skilled foreign nationals before an adjudicator evaluated the applications.

Median annual compensation for all approved H-1B beneficiaries in FY 2020 was $101,000, according to USCIS data, and 64% possess a master’s degree or higher. (Go here).


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