The Biden administration promised to make sweeping changes to U.S. immigration policy in 2021, and the White House wasted no time in releasing several executive orders to reverse the direction of the previous administration.
While many of the changes have been focused on asylum seekers, removals and the treatment of migrant children, some of the orders will have a significant impact on international businesses and work visas as well.
Changes to H-1B visas
One of the Trump administration’s final actions was to replace the H-1B lottery with a system based on wages. Critics say this move would hurt foreign workers with less experience, as well as smaller U.S. companies.
While Biden did not revoke this order, he did delay this change by almost nine months. Additionally, the new administration took steps to make it easier for certain spouses and dependents of H-1B holders to work in the U.S. as well. Per-country visa caps were also removed. These changes offer some hope for H-1B visa holders, applicants and U.S. companies who seek to bolster their workforce with foreign talent in 2021.
Removing some financial barriers
In many ways, the Trump administration’s immigration policy favored higher-income foreign workers to lower-income ones. The Biden administration has made it clear that they aim to make visas more accessible to these lower-income applicants.
White House officials have stated that the new administration plans to re-evaluate the “public charge” rule, which has allowed consular officials to deny visas to applicants they believe would need to rely on public assistance such as food stamps. They also announced plans to reverse a Trump-era policy that denied visa applications from those they believed would be a burden to the U.S. labor market or health care system. These changes should make it easier for companies to bring in more foreign labor, regardless of income level.
Revoking “Buy American and Hire American” order
In 2017, the Trump administration signed the Buy American and Hire American order, which led to a steep increase in denials for visa applicants in the years to follow. The policy also made it more difficult for employers to request extensions of stay petitions for their workers.
On January 25, 2021, Biden revoked this executive order and replaced it with a new one, titled “Ensuring the Future Is Made in All of America by All of America’s Workers.” This new order is meant to continue to support American business and U.S. workers while removing restrictions that led to so many denials for foreign workers over the past few years.
Future changes to immigration law
The Biden administration can only make so many changes to the immigration system through executive action. But future changes seem likely through legislative means.
Within his first days as president, Biden passed along his version of an immigration bill to Congress. The bill seeks to embrace diversity in immigration and strengthen our economy by streamlining the application process for employers and skilled workers. These changes depend largely on legislators, so it may be some time before the immigration system sees larger reform.