The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services claims that it is "relentlessly pursuing necessary immigration reforms that move towards a merit-based system," but Congress hasn't yet authorized any changes to the system. Indeed, there is still a great deal of disagreement about what an ideal immigration system might look like.
The leaders of some of America's most prominent companies, for example, believe that we should continue to invite up to 65,000 people from abroad to take certain hard-to-fill jobs. That number is the cap on H-1B visas, which are available for foreign workers in certain high-skill specialty occupations, certain Defense Department jobs and others.
Dozens of members of the Business Roundtable recently wrote to the secretary of Homeland Security to protest what they view as "arbitrary and inconsistent" immigration guidelines that are resulting in new, unnecessary hurdles for H-1B visa applicants. The changes, which have dramatically increased H-1B processing times and denial rates, are "causing considerable anxiety for many thousands of our employees while threatening to disrupt company operations," the group says.
The joint letter was signed by CEOs of top companies such as Apple, IBM and JPMorgan Chase. They argue that skilled foreign workers are necessary for the country's economic growth and competitiveness.
The issue arose after a nonprofit policy research group called the National Foundation for American Policy noticed a sudden change in the processing of H-1B visas. Between the third and fourth quarters of last year, the H-1B denial rate jumped by 41 percent. At the same time, examiners requested additional information from H-1B applicants three times as often.
Some experts believe that the Trump administration is attempting to change U.S. immigration policy by intentionally slowing down the approval of these vital employment-based visas.
"Step up investigations, slow things down, and you can accomplish your policy goals without legislation," said a Rutgers University public policy professor.
In order to qualify for an H-1B "specialty occupation" visa, you must not only have a U.S. job offer but also meet strict academic and job criteria. Moreover, for non-DOD applicants, the employer must file a certification with the Department of Labor demonstrating that no U.S. workers are available to fill the position.
The H-1B only became controversial in recent years when it was alleged that some companies, particularly large outsourcing firms, were using loopholes in the program to bring in lower-paid foreign workers when Americans were actually available.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services insists that it reviews all petitions "fairly, efficiently and effectively on a case-by-case basis." It claims that the increased scrutiny over H-1B petitions is intended to "combat H-1B abuses."