US work visa application procedures are now firmly caught up in the politics of the Trump administration – and if the president has his way, even more changes can be expected in the longer term.
The immediate concern is that visas of all types are likely to be delayed by new measures that have just come into effect. Namely, a new questionnaire is being given to certain US visa applicants asking for social media handles and personal information from the past 15 years.
Unfortunately there is not a lot of detail about who will be subjected to this additional security, according to Sam Adair, partner at immigration law specialist Graham Adair in Austin, Texas. Besides the obvious, such as watch lists and the like, an individual could fall under additional scrutiny because of a name hit (that is, he or she has the same name as someone on a watch list); because they work with certain technologies or industries such as in the chemical or biomedical space; or even if they travel a lot.
“Historically travel hasn’t been a trigger but under this new guidance I could see someone who has travelled to certain countries be subjected to the additional vetting,” Mr Adair says. The larger point is that this additional vetting will stretch US resources, making wait times for all visas that much longer, he adds.
A separate issue is Mr Trump’s recent executive order directing federal agencies to conduct a review of visa programmes, including the popular (and controversial) H1-B visa, which provides temporary visas for highly skilled workers.
Mr Trump would like to change the policy so that US workers are hired first before foreign workers are brought in. Specifically, he wants to get rid of the lottery system that governs the H1-B and move to a merit-based system.
Without a doubt, this is a sea change from previous policy. Nevertheless it is important to note that it is a change in theory only, as Congress must put the necessary legislative underpinnings in place. Certainly, a Congressional bill has been introduced to tighten regulations, but similar bills are left by the wayside every legislative season.
“The president has a lot less power on this matter than he might realise or care to admit,” says one source who is familiar with the H1-B process and asked to remain anonymous.