The H1-B Visa Slowdown

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Game-Changing Government Policies & Drivers

By William Hillis

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William Hillis

Broker & Research Editor, Realogics Sotheby's International Realty

"This is a contest of perspectives in which H1-B employers have steadily held the field." 


Controversy has bedeviled the H1-B visa program for decades. It especially draws the ire of native-born U.S. tech workers, who—not without cause—believe their jobs to be at risk to virtual indentured servants imported from overseas.


Lately, this issue has gotten caught up in the brewing war between politically entrenched high-tech employers like Microsoft and Google, and the army of economic nationalists who crawled out of the woodwork during the November 2016 election. While much of President Trump’s agenda has been bargained away since then, the Executive Branch has been challenging visa applications, notably H1-B petitions. The President has called for the program to benefit only the highest-paid workers, though he hasn’t yet introduced any reforms. 

From January through August 2017, the USCIS challenged 85,000 petitions through “requests for evidence,” a year-over-year increase of 45 percent. These challenges can delay visa issuance by months. Moreover, the number of H1-Bs issued grew by less than three percent.

U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington’s 7th Congressional District is an ideal example of the path to citizenship preferred by some H1-B visa holders. In an August 2017 interview with The Hindu, she observed that “not all of the H1-Bs, but a small portion of people who come to the U.S on H-1B … decide to stay. In fact, that was my situation. I went on a student visa, then I was on H1-B, and then I became a permanent resident.”

For Washington’s high-tech employers and others from the center to the postmodern left, the H1-B program enlarges the labor pool and is ideologically satisfying. For high-tech labor and economic nationalists, the program introduces unneeded competition that dilutes wages and opportunities for local workers. This is a contest of perspectives in which H-1B employers have steadily held the field, until now.

Impact: The H1-B program is likely to be sustained in the short run, but with delays. The long-run result (i.e., post-2020) depends on national political outcomes. The impact on individuals is greater than the impact on Puget Sound employers, who can attract replacements from among U.S. citizens nationwide.