H-1B Denials Remain High, Especially For IT Services Companies

Some good analysis here (and more on the “Canadian advantage”:

New U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data show denial rates for new H-1B petitions increased from 6% in FY 2015 to 21% in FY 2019. Companies that provide information technology (IT) and other services to U.S. businesses had the highest denial rates due to Trump administration policies.

“In FY 2019, USCIS adjudicators denied 21% of H-1B petitions for “initial” employment (which is primarily for new employees) and 12% of H-1B petitions for “continuing” employment (mostly for existing employees),” according to a new National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) analysis. “The 12% denial rate for continuing employment was the same in both FY 2018 and FY 2019, indicating there has been little change in USCIS policies over the past year.”

USCIS explains that H-1B petitions for “initial” employment are primarily cases that would count against the H-1B annual limit (i.e., new employment). H-1B petitions for “continuing” employment are mostly extensions for existing employees at the same company but could also be for an H-1B visa holder changing to a new employer.

As the NFAP analysis notes, this is the first time that data for all four quarters of FY 2019 are available and can be separated into initial and continuing employment, which provides a clearer picture of USCIS adjudications. The analysis found the 12% denial rate for continuing employment in FY 2019 was four times higher than the 3% rate as recently as FY 2015. The 21% denial rate for initial employment in FY 2019, while lower than the 24% rate in 2018, was still much higher than the 6% denial rate for such cases in FY 2015.

The statistics bear out what immigration attorneys have said for more than a year: “USCIS has raised the legal standard they use to decide whether enough evidence has been presented with petitions to approve them, without any legal authority to do so and without any notice to the public,” William Stock, a founding member of Klasko Immigration Law Partners, LLP, told me in an interview.

The analysis found H-1B denial rates have risen for nearly all major companies. However, it is clear USCIS has used a different standard to adjudicate cases for IT services companies. “The denial rate for H-1B petitions (initial employment) for at least 9 major companies that provide IT services or other consulting services reached over 30% in FY 2019,” according to the analysis, “In comparison, technology product companies, such as Apple, had far lower denial rates for initial employment, ranging between 2% and 7%, although these rates were generally higher than in FY 2015.”

The denials seem focused on H-1B employees who will perform work at customer sites to service contracts. Employers that keep employees primarily in a single location, such as product companies, have much lower denial rates.

Attorneys say there is plenty of evidence that USCIS changed the standards without a change in the law or new USCIS regulations. Between FY 2015 and FY 2019, the denial rate for initial employment increased by 20 percentage points or more for at least 10 major companies that provide information technology or other business services.

For continuing employment, the denial rate for H-1B petitions was 3% between FY 2011 and FY 2015 but increased to 12% in FY 2018 and FY 2019. A USCIS memo that told adjudicators not to provide deference to prior determinations has forced long-time employees waiting for green cards to leave the United States because their cases were denied.

It should not be surprising that the most successful technology companies have needed to hire highly skilled people to grow. The leading employers for H-1B petitions for initial employment in FY 2019 included Amazon, Google and Apple, all of which have passed $1 trillion in market capitalization. When companies recruit at U.S. universities, they find 80% of the full-time graduate students in computer science and electrical engineering are international students.

In contrast, other companies are sponsoring fewer workers. “New H-1B petitions (for initial employment) for the top 7 Indian-based companies declined by 64% between FY 2015 and FY 2019,” according to the NFAP analysis. “The 7 companies had only 5,428 H-1B petitions for initial employment approved in FY 2019. Denials may have contributed to this decline but the primary reason for the drop in H-1B visas is a choice by companies to build up their domestic workforce in the United States and rely less on visas. Moreover, these and similar companies are part of an industry trend when servicing clients to use more digital services, such as cloud computing, bots and artificial intelligence, which require fewer workers.”

The supply of H-1B petitions has been gone before the end of the past 17 fiscal years. The demand for tech talent across industries and the low number of H-1Bs relative to the size of America’s economy are the major reasons. The annual limit of 65,000 H-1B petitions and the 20,000 exemption from that limit for individuals with an advanced degree from a U.S. university comes to 85,000 new H-1B petitions each year – only 0.05% of the U.S. labor force of 164 million people.

High denial rates are not the only problem for companies under Trump administration policies. The percentage of completed cases with Requests for Evidence (RFEs) increased from 22.3% in FY 2015 to 40.2% in FY 2019, according to USCIS, which increases costs and processing time for employers.

Given the problems in the United States, it’s not surprising companies, international students and foreign-born engineers are looking to the north. In Canada, the number of Indians who became permanent residents increased from 39,340 in 2016 to 85,585 in 2019, a rise of more than 117%, according to a National Foundation for American Policy analysis of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada data.

Under Canada’s Global Skills Strategy, adjudicators approve many applications for high-skilled workers within two weeks with a low number of denials. “Canada is benefiting from a diversion of young Indian tech workers from U.S. destinations, largely because of the challenges of obtaining and renewing H-1B visas and finding a reliable route to U.S. permanent residence,” said Peter Rekai, founder of the Toronto-based immigration law firm Rekai LLP, in an interview. (See here.)

In the United States, we often ignore the positive role technology professionals, both native-born and foreign-born, play in making U.S. companies more competitive. “Digital transformations and digital platforms are just starting to take off and, as we look into the near future, the current skill shortages are going to grow as the demand for digital and IT skills explodes,” said Everest Group CEO Peter Bendor-Samuel. “If this administration wanted to harm U.S. competitiveness, then restricting access to this vital labor would be an excellent approach.”

The situation may grow worse for employers and high-skilled foreign nationals. The Trump administration has pledged to publish a new H-1B visa rule in 2020 to “revise the definition of specialty occupation . . . and revise the definition of employment and employer-employee relationship.”

The rule would put into regulation many of the current USCIS practices that have resulted in higher denial rates – or may be a source of new ways for USCIS to restrict the employment of foreign nationals.

Immigrants Flock To Canada, While U.S. Declines

From Forbes:

New data show the number of people immigrating to Canada increased by 26% between 2015 and 2019, and is projected to rise higher as the country seeks to overcome the aging of its workforce – a serious problem in all Western nations. In the United States, legal immigration fell by 7% between FY 2016 and FY 2018, and is expected to decline even more sharply due to Trump administration policies.

Canada has announced plans to increase the number of immigrants it accepts each year. “To further ease the challenges of a shrinking labor force and an aging population, our new multi-year immigration levels plan sets out the highest levels of permanent residents that Canada will welcome in recent history,” according to Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen. By 2021, Canada is expected to increase legal immigration to 350,000 a year, a rise of 78,165, or 29%, from the 2015 level of 271,835.

The big Canadian immigration news in 2019 was the number of Indians who became permanent residents in Canada increased from 39,340 in 2016 to 85,585 in 2019, a rise of more than 117%, according to a National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) analysis of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada data. “Canada is benefiting from a diversion of young Indian tech workers from U.S. destinations, largely because of the challenges of obtaining and renewing H-1B visas and finding a reliable route to U.S. permanent residence,” said Peter Rekai, founder of the Toronto-based immigration law firm Rekai LLP, in an interview. (See here.)

In 2019, India was the leading country of citizenship for immigrants to Canada, with more than twice as many immigrants as China, which had 30,260 immigrants in 2019, in second place. Third was the Philippines, with 27,815 immigrants. Nigeria was fourth, with 12,595, and the United States had the fifth most immigrants to Canada, with 10,800.

Even though Trump officials have claimed an affinity for Canada’s immigration system, that is not the case when it comes to immigration levels. As a percentage of each country’s population, Canada admits approximately three times as many immigrants as America. Trump administration-supported bills in Congress would have reduced legal immigration to the U.S. by up to 50%.

A new U.S. Census report highlights the importance of immigration to America’s long-term prospects. “Higher international immigration over the next four decades would produce a faster growing, more diverse, and younger population for the United States,” concluded the Census report.

“We desperately need immigration to keep our country growing and prosperous,” according to William Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer and author of several books examining Census data. “The reason we have a good growth rate in comparison to other developed countries in the world is because we’ve had robust immigration for the last 30 to 40 years.”

The numbers show the United States is headed in the opposite direction from Canada on immigration. Legal immigration to the U.S. fell by 7% between 2016 and 2018, illustrating the impact of Trump administration policies on legal immigration. The administration’s public charge rule, the travel ban and diminished refugee admissions are expected to reduce the annual level of legal immigration by a much greater amount, which will slow labor force growth in the United States and mean lower long-term economic growth for Americans.

It appears the debate about the difference between the U.S. and Canadian immigration systems is not about establishing a points system but whether to offer opportunity to more legal immigrants as in Canada or to face a decline and slower growth as in the United States.

Better Immigration Policies Would Help U.S. Tech Companies

Another American commentator effectively states a Canadian advantage:

Donald Trump recently declared that $60 billion in new tariffs against China would help U.S. technology companies preserve their intellectual property. Trade experts doubt compelling Americans to pay more for products imported from China will solve any problems. However, if the Trump administration wants to help U.S. tech companies, the solution isn’t to impose tariffs on Chinese imports but to enact better immigration policies.

For a U.S. technology company – and, really, almost any company today – the most important input is human capital. When companies make decisions on where to invest resources, the ability to hire a sufficient number of qualified workers in that location is paramount.

Restrictive immigration policies encourage U.S. companies to place more resources – and people – in foreign countries. Moreover, many U.S. companies contract out information technology and other services to focus on their core line of business. Burdensome policies, such as the Trump administration’s new third-party placement requirements, encourage more of those services to be delivered from outside the United States.

“Today, 81 percent of the full-time graduate students at U.S. universities in electrical engineering and 79 percent in computer science are international students,” according to a National Foundation for American Policy analysis. In other words, when U.S. companies recruit on college campuses they hire U.S. students, of course, but also find the vast majority of the graduate students in many key technical fields are foreign nationals who cannot work in America unless U.S. immigration rules are reasonable.

H-1B status is typically the only way a high-skilled foreign national or international student graduating from a U.S. university can work long-term in the United States. The wait for employment-based green cards often stretches to years, making them impractical to use for hiring most people. That means despite its limitations, H-1B visas are the key way U.S. companies employ high-skilled foreigners. Companies can transfer certain employees to the U.S. but they must have worked abroad for at least a year and gaining approvals even for those types of visas has become more difficult.

The first week of April is when employers file for H-1Bs – even though the start date for the professionals will not be until October, the beginning of the next fiscal year. This will be the 16thconsecutive year the supply of H-1Bs runs out, both the 65,000-annual limit and the additional 20,000 reserved for international students from U.S. graduate schools.

The reason H-1B visas run out each year is simple: The small annual limit of 65,000 (for an economy with over 160 million workers) was set back in 1990. Since then the World Wide Web, social media, smartphones, 3-D printing, and advances in biotech and other fields have fueled the demand for high-skilled technical labor. Most H-1B visa holders have earned a master’s degree or higher.

Trump administration officials have said America should shift to a “merit-based” immigration system but that is code for eliminating most family-sponsored immigration categories and reducing legal immigration, not admitting more high-skilled foreign nationals. In fact, since many family-sponsored individuals possess high levels of education, preventing them from immigrating to the United States would result in the admission of fewer highly educated immigrants.

When asked, immigration attorneys cannot name any policies the Trump administration has established or proposed to make it easier for high-skilled foreign nationals to work in or immigrate to the United States – and can talk for hours about all the new measures that have made life more difficult for immigrants and employers.

If the Trump administration wanted to make U.S. high tech companies more competitive in global markets, then here are the immigration policies it should enact:

First, on the legislative front, the administration should support H.R. 392, which eliminates the per-country limit that contributes to high-skilled immigrants from India waiting potentially decades to receive permanent residence. Congress should also raise the annual limit on employment-based green cards and add exemptions for individual with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and the dependents of employer-sponsored immigrants. The annual limit on H-1B visas should be raised substantially to reflect the demand for high-skilled labor in today’s modern economy.

Second, the administration should stop trying to repeal the worthwhile regulation that allows many spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the United States. This 2015 regulation helps retain skilled workers and provides greater dignity to spouses, many of whom are well-educated women born in India. Immigration officials should also halt plans to eliminate or make unduly burdensome the ability of international students to work after graduation for 12 months on Optional Practical Training (OPT) or an additional 24 months for individuals in a STEM field. Another problematic administration policy is its plan to rescind a regulation that allows international entrepreneurs to remain in the U.S. after starting new job-creating businesses.

Third, the Trump administration should cease what attorneys and businesses view as an assault on the ability of companies to employ high-skilled foreign nationals in the United States. Over the past year, these measures have included immigration adjudicators demanding employers comply with many more Requests for Evidence and denying more H-1B applications; the administration telling adjudicators not to “defer to prior determinations,” including approvals or findings of facts, when renewing  an H-1B or other high-skilled visa (making denials more likely); the administration’s travel bans against individuals from Muslim-majority countries; and the effort by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to battle against a common business practice whereby companies focus on core competencies and contract out other functions, sometimes resulting in workers performing some work on customer sites. (For a more complete list of administration actions look here and here.)

Already we can see a negative impact from administration policies. “The number of international students from India enrolled in graduate level programs in computer science and engineering declined by 21%, or 18,590 fewer graduate students, from 2016 to 2017,” a recent analysis of government data found. One plausible explanation for this drop is that highly educated foreign nationals no longer see America as the best place to build a career. And remember, unlike when a factory closes, U.S. companies don’t issue press releases every time they place more work in offices overseas in response to the U.S. government’s restrictions on immigration.

Observers believe administration policies directed against high-skilled foreign-born professionals and the companies that employ them are driven by a half-dozen or more appointees who share a common worldview. They have worked much of their careers to reduce the number of immigrants coming into the United States, regardless of skill level. Moreover, they possess little understanding of how labor markets function, particularly in today’s global economy, or simply ignore these realities.

There is not a fixed number of jobs in the United States. When immigrants fill jobs, they create more jobs through their consumer spending, investments and entrepreneurship. Their availability as workers can encourage additional investments.

If companies are not allowed to hire (or transfer) high-skilled foreign nationals in America, then these companies will hire and keep them outside the United States, taking many jobs and innovations with them to other countries. Pretending companies do not possess other options in the face of government restrictions is misguided.

For the good of the country, to set things on the right track on high-skilled immigration, there is a simple solution for Trump administration officials: Just do the opposite of everything they’ve done since taking office.

via Better Immigration Policies Would Help U.S. Tech Companies

Canada’s First Hijab-Wearing Television News Reporter Is Using Her Difference To Break Barriers: Forbes

Interesting profile:

Canada is a country known for it’s multiculturalism, and nowhere represents that better than Toronto. As the fourth largest city in North America and the most diverse metropolitan area in the world, Toronto is home to people of all racial, religious, and cultural backgrounds. From Greektown to Little Jamaica, from food festivals to musical showcases, from the ringing bells of churches to the prayer calls of mosques, the corners of the world convene in Toronto. But despite this rich diversity, a hijab-wearing Muslim woman had never anchored a major newscast in the city, or anywhere else in the country. Not until 2015. Not until Ginella Massa.

Massa made history two years ago when she appeared on televisions across the Greater Toronto Area on CityNews Toronto’s late night news show. While Muslim women had anchored newscasts in Canada before, none had ever done so in a hijab.

The gravity of this was not lost on Massa. “When I have young girls coming up to me saying how excited they are seeing someone like me in a mainstream medium, and that it makes them feel like it’s something they too can aspire to be, that’s what keeps me encouraged and inspired to keep doing the work I’m doing,” she explained.

“My mother was the one who suggested that I might want to pursue a career in broadcasting, given my loquaciousness, my inquisitive nature, and my ability to easily connect with all different kinds of people. When I questioned whether I could be given a chance on broadcast TV, she would tell me, ‘just because it hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean you can’t be the first,’” Massa recalls.

Massa pursued a degree in journalism and later worked as a digital content editor for the website of a small news station. But getting an anchor role is a considerable challenge for aspiring news reporters with no on-air experience. So, Massa, decided to create an opportunity for herself. Together with her friend, Maleeha Sheikh, Massa co-produced an online web-series. Though they didn’t have a huge budget or audience, the episodes were good footage for their portfolios and demo reels and proved they had essential industry skills.

It paid off. “We only ended up doing 4 episodes because a month later [Sheikh] got offered a job reporting on a morning show, and I landed my first on-air gig about 4 months later,” Massa notes.

Ginella Massa’s first newscast

Of course, the journey to that job did not come without fears and apprehensions. Though Massa never worried about her abilities or the quality of her work, before getting hired on at CityNews, her concern was that networks would hesitate to hire her for fear of controversy or backlash in response to the outward display of her faith. But a mentor encouraged Massa to embrace her difference and position it as an asset, and that’s precisely what she did.

In interviews, Massa encouraged the directors she met with to see the importance of reflecting the diversity of their audience. In a city where more than half the population is made up of visible minorities, hiring a hijab-wearing Muslim woman was not a risk, it was a willful decision to include the voices of communities that are often left unheard.

Now, with every broadcast, Massa not only reminds Muslim girls that they could one day be anchors too, she also continues to challenge the stereotypes and misconceptions her colleagues and viewers might hold.

“I recognize that some of the people I work with would otherwise never have any interaction with a Muslim, and it’s opened their eyes and made them realize that Muslims have a vested interest in our society, that we’re intelligent and talented, and we care about the same issues as many Canadians,” Massa notes.

Massa hopes that her role will continue to inspire other Muslim women to go after roles in the public sector where they can help change the negative narratives around what women of her faith can achieve. She extends that same message to women and girls of all faiths, races, and cultural backgrounds who might feel that they don’t belong in the spaces they dream of occupying.

The advice she offers is universal: “Don’t let anyone else silence your dreams because of their perception of what you can or cannot achieve. You’re going to have to work hard to overcome those barriers that people will try to put in front of you. Be persistent, don’t give up, and work on being the best, so no one can ever have a reason to say no.”

via Canada’s First Hijab-Wearing Television News Reporter Is Using Her Difference To Break Barriers

Can You Overcome Inbuilt Bias?

Interesting psych experiment, showing that appealing to higher motives less effective than more targeted tasking to reduce implicit biases:

Interestingly, most of the successful interventions were explicit about what they were trying to achieve and why. It’s important to remove the taboos around workplace discrimination and to educate people that bias is natural – what matters is that it doesn’t influence behavior. But worryingly, the majority of the successful interventions both associated black people with positive attributes and white people with negative attributes, reversing the natural direction of the white participants’ bias. Clearly reducing workplace bias by encouraging negativity towards a different group is not a solution.

The results of this comparison also raise an interesting question about the means of change and the outcome it achieves. Interventions which appealed to participants’ moral, conscious beliefs didn’t work, while those which targeted specific task behaviors – e.g. responding faster when black was paired with good – did. Some may argue that these interventions addressed the symptoms and not the cause. But in the workplace, when the ‘symptoms’ of implicit bias include unconsciously excluding and ostracizing others, addressing these behaviors may be a more effective use of time and resources than trying and failing to change the underlying beliefs which cause them.

It’s a tricky, emotive subject, but as more organizations wake up to the damaging consequences of implicit bias in terms of workforce engagement and performance, we can only hope for more research to shed light on how best to overcome it.

Can You Overcome Inbuilt Bias?.