Over the past four years, and especially over the course of 2020, the United States government downsized several immigration programs including the H-1B visa, which they claimed would help protect U.S. workers and jobs. Changes were also made to block or restrict various types of visas as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The H1-B visa program simultaneously benefits companies and workers from abroad in specialty positions. U.S. companies have championed this program, and many business leaders question these recent changes. For years, companies sought the program’s expansion rather than contraction.
With 2021 comes a new administration and a new Congress, but will it bring a restoration of our robust immigration system?
H-1B visas in 2020
The H-1B visa program has undergone several changes in 2020 alone. In June, the White House announced a freeze to the issuance of new H-1B visas through the end of 2020. This was done in response to rising unemployment in the U.S. and the rise of the pandemic over the summer months.
In October, more changes were announced to the H-1B visa program, forcing American companies to pay substantially higher wages to foreign workers, while making it more difficult for visa applicants to secure eligibility. Again in December, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security implemented new rules to end the H-1B visa lottery, instead approving applicants based on their skills and salary level.
While some of these changes face ongoing legal challenges, others have been pressuring the upcoming administration to re-evaluate and revert some of these changes in 2021.
What to expect in 2021
While we cannot know for sure how the new administration will act in regards to immigration and the H-1B program, many organizations are already pushing for easing restrictions and increasing the number of approved applications in the coming years.
Former State Department attorney Jeffrey Gorsky noted in an interview that he believes the Biden Administration’s response will be mixed – possibly increasing the program’s numbers, while also retaining some of the changes the former administration made.
The number of denials for new H-1B applications has nearly quadrupled from 6% in 2015 to 21% in 2020. Experts agree that continuing to decrease the number of H-1B approvals could have a negative impact on the U.S. economy, pushing skilled foreign workers to other countries instead.
We will have more guidance on how the next administration will act after their first months in the White House. Some of the changes made in 2020 can be undone immediately, and experts are anxious to see just what actions the new administration will take – and how quickly they’ll take them.