USCIS’s Cuccinelli Boasts Of Increasing Immigration Bureaucracy

Not something to boast about, normally:

In a new press release, USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli boasted that the Trump administration has increased red tape and bureaucracy for U.S. companies. It’s the latest example of administration officials lauding efforts to make it more difficult for employers to obtain what economists often consider to be a company’s most valuable resource – talent.

Since 2017, Trump administration policies have focused on restricting the entry of immigrants and foreign nationals, including scientists and engineers. “Denial rates for new H-1B petitions have increased significantly, rising from 6% in FY 2015 to 32% in the first quarter of FY 2019,” according to a National Foundation for American Policy analysis.

In addition, expensive and time-consuming Requests for Evidence (RFEs) reached an unprecedented level of 60% in the FY 2019 first quarter. The percentage of completed H-1B cases with a Request for Evidence has doubled between FY 2016 and FY 2019. Many companies have resorted to lawsuits in federal court against USCIS to gain approvals for employees they have identified as valuable.

However, Ken Cuccinelli and USCIS describe the increased bureaucracy facing businesses in positive terms and the fulfillment of a mission. “Consistent with President Trump’s call for enhanced vetting, USCIS plays a key role in safeguarding our nation’s immigration system and making sure that only those who are eligible for a benefit receive it,” according to the October 16, 2019, press release. “USCIS is vigorous in its efforts to detect and deter immigration fraud, using a variety of vetting and screening processes to confirm an applicant’s identity and eligibility. The agency also conducts site visits, interviews applicants, and requests evidence for benefits that offer individuals status in the United States.”

The meaning of the bureaucratic language used by USCIS is clear: USCIS has made it more difficult for employers to gain approval for high-skilled foreign nationals and others.

Here are examples of increased bureaucracy and added burdens on companies hiring foreign-born scientists and engineers:

•          Government documents reveal USCIS adjudicators were directed to restrict approvals of H-1B petitions without the legal or regulatory authority to justify those decisions. The documents became public following a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

•          A USCIS internal document – “H-1B RFE Standards” – encouraged adjudicators to demand more information of employers, leading to such requests being made in 40% to 60% of H-1B cases.

•          Another USCIS document changed the standard for what qualifies as a “specialty occupation” for an H-1B visa holder – without any change in the law or regulation. While initially used to deny H-1B status to computer programmers, this analysis explains that the USCIS document states the new USCIS policy is “Applicable to Many Occupations.”

•          USCIS adjudicators have taken the unusual step of approving H-1B status for periods of very short duration. In an ongoing court case, U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer cited the plaintiff’s example of USCIS granting one applicant an H-1B approval valid for only a single day – from February 1 to February 2, 2019. (See USCIS decision here.) Such actions force businesses to waste time and money filing repeatedly for the same employees.

•          A Trump administration decision to compel employment-based green card applicants to sit for in-person interviews contributed to “increased delays in the adjudication of employment-based benefits [that] undermined the ability of U.S. companies to hire and retain essential workers,” according to an American Immigration Lawyers Association report. It also caused increased backlogs in other types of applications.

•          USCIS now often requires – without a new law or regulation – a company to list every contract on which an H-1B visa holder will work during a three-year period to prove a “valid employer-employee relationship.” This was not done previously, and companies consider it unduly burdensome and out of touch with how businesses operate in a modern economy. The policy is a source of litigation.

•          USCIS also issued a memo instructing adjudicators to no longer defer to prior determinations when adjudicating extension applications for existing H-1B visa holders. That policy change has contributed to a significant increase in denials and Request for Evidence for continuing employment for H-1B petitions, resulting in a three-fold increase in the denial rate for companies trying to retain current H-1B employees between FY 2016 and FY 2019. Employees who spent years working in the United States have been forced to leave the country after being denied H-1B extensions.

“By increasing the many hoops and hurdles that employers and foreign-born workers must negotiate to work in the United States, USCIS is making it harder for American companies to recruit and retain global talent,” said attorney Vic Goel, managing partner of Goel & Anderson, in an interview. “It is doing this through trumped-up claims of increased workload and fraud referrals, when many of those challenges are the result of its own efforts to create more work for itself and further grow the immigration bureaucracy.”

The available U.S. domestic talent pool is limited in many key fields. Approximately 80% of full-time graduate students at U.S. universities in computer science and electrical engineering are international students who need a visa to work long-term in the United States.

Research by Britta Glennon, an assistant professor at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, found the types of government restrictions applauded by the acting director of USCIS are not good for America. Glennon found H-1B visa restrictions carry the unintended consequence of pushing jobs outside the United States and lead to less innovation in America. “In short, restrictive H-1B policies could not only be exporting more jobs and businesses to countries like Canada, but they also could be making the U.S.’s innovative capacity fall behind,” concluded Glennon.

When USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli ran for and held public office in Virginia, he had the support of the Tea Party and advocated against overreaching federal bureaucracy, including by filing a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency. As Bob Dylan once sang, “The times, they are a-changin.’”

Source: USCIS’s Cuccinelli Boasts Of Increasing Immigration Bureaucracy

What immigrant entrepreneurs can do without a startup visa

A reminder of the resourcefulness of immigrants (but really, just simpler to immigrate to Canada):

When Nitin Pachisia wanted to start a company, he found himself in a bind. He was gainfully employed by a startup that had sponsored his H-1B visa, a temporary visa awarded to highly skilled foreign workers. But he was itching to build something of his own. “Obviously a lot of attorneys said you can’t and shouldn’t leave your job because your [own] company can’t hire you,” he said.

While working through his options, Pachisia says he inadvertently became a bona-fide expert on the immigration system. “The bigger personal discovery was that I ended up spending a lot of time learning immigration law myself, which is among the worst uses of an entrepreneur’s time. I could be spending that time building my business.”

If he lived in Canada, Pachisia would have had the option of applying for a startup visa, which allows foreign entrepreneurs to immigrate to the country if they have the backing of a designated organization. The tech industry has long lobbied for a startup visa in the U.S., and before President Obama left office, his administration introduced a rule that offered similar benefits (which also didn’t require approval by Congress).

The International Entrepreneur Rule was intended to give entrepreneurs the ability to build their companies in the U.S. for 30 months, assuming they had enough interest from investors. The rule was supposed to go into effect in July 2017 but has instead been in limbo for more than two years, kneecapped by President Trump and his administration. (Trump has also cracked down on work authorization for H-4 spouses.)

“A ton of work went into [the International Entrepreneur Rule], and it’s very straightforward,” says Todd Schulte, the president of immigrant advocacy group FWD.us, which helped conceive of the Rule alongside entrepreneurs, investors, academics, and government figures. “The economy would be growing faster. We would be creating more companies, creating more jobs, and pushing up wages faster if the Trump administration turned around tomorrow and said ‘Actually, we are now in support of this program.’” Schulte also points out that this isn’t a partisan issue. “There are tons of people on both sides of the aisle who support a startup visa and want to make it easier for entrepreneurs to come here,” he says.

The Department of Homeland Security had originally projected that almost 3,000 people a year would qualify to come to the U.S. under the International Entrepreneur Rule. But as of last year—after the Trump administration delayed implementing the rule with the eventual goal of rescinding it—there were reportedly no more than 10 entrepreneurs who had applied.

“I know people who just couldn’t figure out how to stay in the U.S., and they had to leave,” says Schulte. If President Trump is no longer in the White House come 2021, the rule might be revived—but Schulte believes that for some entrepreneurs, it could be too late. “They may have had a great idea that was ready to go in 2015, or 2016, or 2017,” he says. “And by 2020 and 2021, maybe it’s just not right.”

Without a functional startup visa, many foreign-born entrepreneurs feel like they have little recourse. Take Mike Galarza, founder and CEO of fintech startup Entryless. Galarza was working at a tech company that sponsored his work visa. But when Galarza started a company, he couldn’t automatically transfer his sponsorship. Instead, he had to build his business after hours, until he was eligible to apply for a green card. There should have been an easier way to get a new visa, Galarza says, especially as an immigrant who was already screened for a work visa. “People that come through work visas to big companies see a lot of problems and are very creative people,” he says. “There’s a natural selection when you’re coming from outside and are motivated to leave your friends and family.”

Fiona Lee, the founder of Pod Foods, a food tech startup, says she was lucky because her cofounder was a U.S. citizen. While Lee was back in Singapore figuring out her visa situation, her cofounder was able to incorporate their company. “I honestly think I couldn’t have done what I’m doing today without her,” Lee says. “The initial paperwork of setting up anything involved a Social Security number and credit score. Even when I was away, she was able to handle all of that.”

Even securing a work visa through her company—the H-1B1, an offshoot of the H-1B allocated to workers from Singapore—was easier, Lee says, because she had far less competition than someone in the regular pool of H-1B applicants. (This variant of the H-1B visa is the result of a free-trade agreement with Singapore signed into law in 2003.) “The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services did the routine scrutiny, but it was different than for someone from India or China,” she says.

Several founders Lee knows had wanted to come to the U.S. but opted to take their talents elsewhere in the face of an exacting immigration system. “On a global level, America has always been at the forefront of innovation and talent,” she says. “But because of the restrictions, we’re starting to see a lot of talent from other parts of the world go to other countries, whether it’s China or Israel, or [countries in] Europe.”

The workaround for a number of immigrant entrepreneurs has been an extraordinary ability visa like the O-1, which is defined as “for the individual who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics.” The visa wasn’t designed for entrepreneurs, but Pachisia says the pool of recipients has shifted over the years. “Historically, the O-1 was used a lot by entertainers, athletes, models, and artists,” he says. “It’s now increasingly being used by scientists and developers.”

The dearth of a pathway for immigrant entrepreneurs is exactly what Pachisia wanted to solve by creating Unshackled Ventures, an early-stage firm that invests in immigrant-led startups like Pod Foods. “We’re essentially the privatized version of a startup visa,” says Pachisia’s cofounder, Manan Mehta.

With its investment, Unshackled Ventures helps startups land a visa and build their businesses. “Sixty percent of our commitments were made before the company was even incorporated, largely because these are founders who are working other daytime jobs who are on visas. They can’t leave their jobs until they have sponsorship.” The firm has now helped founders apply for 11 different types of visas, including the O-1, and does not charge founders for legal fees.

When Unshackled makes an investment in a founder, they’re relieved of the burden of splitting their time between their own business and, say, a full-time job that has secured their work visa. “That’s the promise here,” Mehta says. “We’re a research and development lab, so we can deploy our investment capital by hiring the founders and allowing them to dedicate every waking hour [to their business] . . . we can meet all the legal requirements while also keeping that innovation in the country.”

Since the fund started in March 2015, Unshackled has made 38 investments, with more than 100 immigration filings for 39 portfolio companies and upwards of $8 million invested in its founders. (Unshackled’s first fund was $4.5 million; earlier this year, the firm secured a second fund worth $20 million.)

Half the battle, Pachisia says, is empowering entrepreneurs with the right information. Unshackled wants to help immigrant entrepreneurs make the system work for them, and the firm works individually with each entrepreneur to come up with an approach that makes sense for them. “The goal is to let the entrepreneurs do what they want to do without being limited by time or limited by what they think is not permitted,” Pachisia says. “So we’ve taken all that myth around immigration and made it very crystal clear.”

As someone eligible for the H-4 visa, he benefited from being able to stay in the U.S. without a work visa of his own—but he argues that some lawyers make blanket statements about immigration that might mislead aspiring entrepreneurs. “There’s a lot of misinformation,” he says. “Even lawyers make broad statements like, ‘You’re on an H-1B and can’t start a company,’ which, as I’ve found out, is wrong.” There are, of course, criteria specific to the H-1B, as there are with any visa—that you can’t be your own employer and have to work within the same speciality, for example—but those restrictions need not disqualify you from being a founder.

Pachisia himself was eventually able to secure an O-1 visa. The extraordinary ability visas are unlike other visas, he says, in that they’re subjective. The criteria for how the visa is awarded isn’t clear, so the key is to craft the right narrative. “My O-1 story is around financial innovation,” he says, “and figuring out innovative ways of structuring finance for startups.” He pointed to his early work finagling creative deals at Deloitte, when he first came to the U.S. on an H-1B, as well as his approach at Unshackled. “We’re applying an innovative way of financing companies, which also encloses immigration,” he says. “That was the story I could tell.”

But while the O-1 is a viable option for many immigrant entrepreneurs, Schulte adds that it’s not necessarily a long-term solution or replacement for a government-sponsored startup visa. Your immigration journey might start with the F-1 visa, when you come to the U.S. for school. From there, you may try to get an H-1B visa; if that doesn’t work, you’re still eligible for a year of temporary employment through your student visa. Eventually, you could apply for an O-1, and if that doesn’t work, try to naturalize when you’re eligible. “High-skilled immigration is kind of like a bridge,” Schulte says. “If you think of it as a bridge—if you take out parts of the bridge, or make it much more narrow, it puts extra strain on everything else.”

Still, Mehta believes Unshackled can grow to effectively take the place of a startup visa sanctioned by the government, or at least significantly mitigate the lack thereof. “I think we can scale this,” he says. “We’ve always done it with every consideration for the law in mind. What we’re showing is the private sector can innovate in any environment.”

Of course, it’s no small feat to get the O-1. Last year, just over 30,000 visas were granted in the O class (which includes the O-2 and O-3 visas extended to immediate family members). Since 2014, the number of O-1 visas issued has increased by nearly 8,000. “It is a high bar, but so is the bar for raising money in Silicon Valley,” Pachisia argues. “If an entrepreneur is able to secure cofounders and hire great talent—which means you’ve been able to sell your vision and raised money—chances are you are an exceptional individual.”

In other words, applying for an O-1 is a test of the very skill an entrepreneur most needs to hone: how to successfully pitch their vision to investors and consumers alike. Since the criteria is inherently subjective, the way you might meet it differs from person to person. Pachisia knows someone who became one of the most popular bloggers in the early days of blogging and got an O-1 visa because of it. “What you’re really striving to do is show that you have a certain capability, which is unusual,” he says. “You did or can do something that most others cannot.

Source: What immigrant entrepreneurs can do without a startup visa

Tech Companies Say it’s Too Hard to Hire High-Skilled Immigrants in the U.S. — So They’re Growing in Canada Instead

The latest in a series of articles. Perhaps the only upside for Canada of the Trump presidency:

On a recent Tuesday, Neal Fachan walked down a dock in Seattle’s Lake Union and boarded a blue and yellow Harbour Air seaplane, alongside six other tech executives. He was bound for Vancouver to check on the Canadian office of Qumulo, the Seattle-based cloud storage company he co-founded in 2012. With no security lines, it was an easy 50-minute flight past snow-capped peaks. Later that day, Fachan caught a return flight back to Seattle.

Fachan began making his monthly Instagram-worthy commute when Qumulo opened its Vancouver office in January. Other passengers on the seaplanes go back and forth multiple times a week. Fachan says his company expanded across the border because Canada’s immigration policies have made it far easier to hire skilled foreign workers there compared to the United States. “We require a very specific subset of skills, and it’s hard to find the people with the right skills,” Fachan says as he gets off the plane. “Having access to a global employment market is useful.”

In the fractious battle over immigration policy, most of the attention has been directed at apprehending migrants at the southern border. Some tech executives and economists, however, believe that growing delays and backlogs for permits for skilled workers at America’s other borders pose a more significant challenge to the U.S.’s standing as a wealth-creating start-up mecca. The risk of losing out on the fruits of innovation to Canada and other countries that are more welcoming to immigrants might be a bigger problem for our economic future than a flood of refugees. Half of America’s annual GDP growth is attributed to rising innovation.

“Increasingly, talented international professionals choose destinations other than the United States to avoid the uncertain working environment that has resulted directly from the agency’s processing delays and inconsistent adjudications,” testified Marketa Lindt, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, at a House hearing last week about processing delays at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Lindt’s organization finds that USCIS processing time for some work permits has doubled since 2014, a fact cited in a May letter signed by 38 U.S. Senators on both sides of the aisle asking USCIS to explain the processing delays.

The backlogs in processing have particularly benefited our neighbor to the north. Canada has adopted an open-armed embrace of skilled programmers, engineers and entrepreneurs at the same time the U.S. is tightening its stance. Research shows that high-skilled foreign workers are highly productive and innovative, and tend to create more new businesses, generating jobs for locals. So each one who winds up in Canada instead of America is a win for the former, and a loss for the latter. “Really smart people can drive economic growth,” says Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank in Washington, D.C. funded in part by cable, pharmaceutical, television, and tech companies. “There are not that many people in the world with an IQ of 130, and to the extent that we’re attracting those people rather than the Canadians doing so, we’re better off.”

With the unemployment rate hovering below at or below four percent for the past 18 months, tech companies are long used to battling for talent by offering $100,000-plus starting salaries and perks like onsite gyms and all the kombucha you can drink. Recruiting foreign talent is one way for them to find new hires. There are a number of ways companies can hire skilled workers from India, China, and other countries, including applying for L-1 and H-1B visas, which allow foreigners to temporarily work in the United States. Demand for these visas, which are awarded by lottery, is intense. Since 2004, 65,000 H-1B visas are issued annually: this year’s ceiling was hit in only four days. (The government allows 20,000 additional visas for workers who have a master’s degree or PhD from a U.S. university.)

Amid the wider crackdown on immigration under the Trump Administration, the application process for employment-based visas appears to have gotten even tougher. The government denied 24% of all initial H-1B applications in 2018, up from six percent in 2015, according to an analysis of data from the National Foundation for American Policy, a pro-immigration think tank. It’s not just H-1B applicants who are experiencing delays. Applicants for all employment-based green cards now have to appear in person at a field office, a new policy that has created long delays, according to the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which says immigration officials under Trump are focusing more on enforcement than on processing legal applications for benefits. And despite a backlog of 5.7 million cases in 2018, USCIS has been providing surge resources to Immigration and Customs Enforcement field offices across the country, diverting more staff away from processing visa applications.

Canada’s policies, in contrast, offer an alluring alternative. Canada permits companies with offices in the country to hire skilled foreign workers in positions such as computer engineers, software designers, and mathematicians, and have their visas processed within two weeks. These workers can soon after apply to be permanent residents and, within three years, become full-fledged citizens. (The path to permanent residency for foreign workers in the U.S., by contrast, can take decades.) Officials at the Canadian consulate in Seattle work with two to three companies a week trying to set up offices in Canada.

“The visa process is just completely unpredictable for us, and we were wrestling with it for so long, we decided we needed to have some certainty,” says Thor Kallestad, the CEO of DataCloud, which uses technology to help mining companies better assess land potential. He already had offices in Silicon Valley and Seattle, but decided to open up shop in Vancouver and close his Silicon Valley office so he could more easily hire foreign workers. “In the U.S., we just couldn’t get clear answers about what the process looked like, what we as a company needed to do to rectify it.”

The Canadian option offers workers more certainty — and a near-guaranteed path to citizenship — while many U.S. skilled workers have no idea when and if they will get approved to stay in the United States. Given the choice, talented entrepreneurs with cutting-edge companies are choosing Canada. “They really make it easy to come in and start a business,” said Nat Cartwright, one of the founders of Finn.AI, an artificial intelligence company that powers virtual assistants for banks around the world. Cartwright and her two business partners, who are from Australia and India, met in business school in Spain. When they graduated, they considered locating their new company in Silicon Valley, but ultimately chose Vancouver because they knew they would qualify for a start-up visa there, and that they would be able to quickly hire AI experts from around the world. Of the company’s 60 workers, 60% were born outside Canada. Seven of Cartwright’s business school classmates from Spain have since relocated to Canada.

Canadian officials have deftly responded to the changing climate in the U.S. In 2017, the Trudeau government announced Global Skills Strategy, the program that allows companies to get work permits for foreign talent in less than two weeks. Their spouses can also receive work permits; the U.S. Department of Homeland Security this year proposed revoking work permits of the spouses of skilled foreign workers in the U.S. In 2018, the Trudeau government also made permanent the Start-Up Visa program, which allows immigrant entrepreneurs to live and work in the country provided their start-up has secured funding from venture capitalists or angel investors. A similar start-up visa program in the United States was approved in the last days of the Obama administration, but the Trump administration is in the process of ending it. “By helping Canadian companies grow, this strategy is creating more jobs for Canada’s middle class and a stronger Canadian economy,” said Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s Somali-born Minister of Immigration, earlier this year.

Even the biggest American tech companies are expanding their Canadian operations in a quest for high-skilled labor. Software engineer Janko Jerinic moved to Canada after attending an Amazon recruiting fair in his home country of Serbia. He wanted a job in New York or Seattle, but his wife hoped to work as well, and an Amazon recruiter said it would be hard for her to get a visa. The recruiter steered the couple to Vancouver, where Jerinic has worked for Amazon since 2015. The office, which opened in 2013, rapidly grew from about 500 people when he started to triple that now. A map in Jerinic’s Vancouver office shows employees’ places of birth. There are hundreds of pins from places like India, Russia, Brazil, and Belgium. But “you have to use a flashlight to find people from Canada,” he jokes. Amazon said in April 2018 that it was building a 416,000 square foot office in downtown Vancouver that will open in 2022; it plans to hire 3,000 more people there.

That technology companies are growing across America’s border has big implications for the U.S. economy. Since World War II, the U.S. has been the epicenter of the entrepreneurial universe. But America’s entrepreneurial dominance is waning. While 95% of global start-up and venture capital activity took place in the United States in the mid-1990s, today it’s about half, according to a report from the Center for American Entrepreneurship (CAE), a nonprofit that advocates for start-ups and is funded by banks and financial institutions. And the number of start-ups still paying employees a year after their founding fell 42% between 2005 and 2015, the most recent year for which there is data available.

The innovation economy creates jobs outside of tech, too. Research by the Berkeley economist Enrico Moretti suggests that every high-paying tech job created in an economy results in five more openings, including positions like lawyers, nurses, and hairdressers. The United States allows about 140,000 immigrant skilled workers to become permanent residents annually; Canada, a company with one-tenth of the population, welcomed 160,000 skilled workers on the track to permanent residency in 2017 and hopes to get that number to nearly 200,000 by 2021. Its goal of making immigrants 1% of its population by 2021 would increase annual GDP growth by 0.6%, with immigrants driving one-third of that expansion, according to a report by the Conference Board of Canada.

Making it easier for high-skilled immigrants in the United States could help jump-start America’s innovation economy, said Ian Hathaway, a Brookings Institution fellow who studies entrepreneurialism and technology. Immigrants are twice as likely as native-born Americans to start businesses. Immigrants or children of immigrants founded almost half of America’s Fortune 500 companies. More immigration could also bring benefits beyond the country’s traditional tech hubs, boosting businesses in the countryside and suburbia that are short on skilled tech talent. Most of the start-up activity that has occurred since the Great Recession has been concentrated in only 20 counties, a startling contrast to the economic recovery of the 1990s, when new businesses were sprinkled across the country.

VannTech, a recruiting platform, recently brought 126 Brazilian workers to a company in the Canadian prairies whose native workers kept moving to Toronto and Vancouver. The platform has 70,000 skilled tech workers looking to relocate to Canada and Europe; it does not help these people go to the United States because the process is too difficult, said Ilya Brotzky, VannHack’s CEO. “If U.S. companies are putting 5,000 tech jobs in Canada, when they could be putting them in places like St. Louis or Indianapolis, that’s a huge deal to those local economies,” says Atkinson.

At the same time, Trump himself has advocated for rethinking the system. In 2017, he backed the Raise Act, a bill introduced by Senate Republicans that would have cut legal immigration in half, while also establishing a points system designed to give priority to skilled workers and investors. While the bill would not have dramatically increased the number of visas available to in-demand workers, it did signal a preference for skilled workers over other migrants. The bill stalled out after opposition from politicians whose constituencies include agriculture and tourism companies, which rely heavily on unskilled immigrants. Trump reintroduced the merit-based immigration idea this year in a Rose Garden speech, and his staff is considering a new immigration plan that would revamp the current system to prioritize skills over family ties. “We want immigrants coming in,” he said in May. “We cherish the open door that we want to create for our country, but a big proportion of those immigrants must come in through merit and skill.”

Harbour Air, the seaplane company, used to fly buyers in and out of remote log booms across the Pacific Northwest. As that business waned, the company pivoted to tourism. Now, pilot Reggie Morisset says that tech industry demand is filling up planes once again. When the Vancouver-Seattle route launched last year, tech companies bought tickets in bulk so their employees could easily go back and forth between Canada and the United States, he said. “It’s catching fire,” he said. “If anything, it is just going to get busier.”

Source: Tech Companies Say it’s Too Hard to Hire High-Skilled Immigrants in the U.S. — So They’re Growing in Canada Instead

How H-1B visa quotas are denying educated immigrants the American dream

A good individual example, along with some relevant data and analysis:

Marie Francois grew up in Haiti reading books her mother picked up from a local thrift shop, often tomes that had smart-looking people on the cover. She read mostly during the day when it didn’t matter that their small home didn’t have electricity. At night, she read by candlelight.

Her single mother, who worked as a cleaning lady while studying to be a nurse, told her oldest daughter not to get used to living in poverty.

“We’re going to get out of here,” she would say.

College graduate Marie Francois, pictured in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 23, 2019, has received more than 10 job offers as a project engineer, but because of the current immigration system, none of the companies want to go through H-1B visa process to to hire her.

Francois’ mother valued education. Though she didn’t have much money, she paid for her children to attend private Catholic school. Sometimes a school kicked Francois out when her mother couldn’t pay the tuition.

Her mother eventually became a nurse at the company where she had worked as a cleaner. She later went into the wheat and flour business, a popular commodity in the Caribbean. She became active in politics.

It took 15 years, but Francois’ mother was true to her word.

“My mom never takes no for an answer,” Francois said. “She’s not afraid to start from the bottom and work her way up. That’s why the American dream attracted me, I believe.”

But the American dream isn’t coming easy for the 30-year-old married mother of a 15-month old son who has lived legally in the United States on a student visa for the past decade. (Her husband also is Haitian and in the country on a student visa.)

Francois has a bachelor’s degree in construction management from Brigham Young University-Idaho. She studied business management at the State University of New York, one of three Haitian students selected among thousands for a special program. She has put in hundreds of hours of community service. She was a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Paraguay. She has volunteered on political campaigns. She speaks four languages. She wants to go to Harvard Law School.

“I feel like I’m the ultimate immigrant,” she said.

What Francois doesn’t have is U.S. citizenship or a green card, and that is making it difficult for her to land a job.

“We’re not your enemy,” she said. “We’re here because we love this country and we want to be part of this great nation.”

Companies, she said, aren’t willing to work through the immigration system to help her get a highly sought-after H1-B visa for college graduates with special skills. Businesses don’t want to take a chance on someone who might not be in the country very long, nor do they want to wade through the immigration system to help her get a special visa.

One Utah company gave her a start date and even sent her pictures of her cubicle before abruptly rescinding the offer.

“It’s disappointing and sometimes discouraging, but I’m still pursuing the American dream because I’m a hard worker and we are tough enough and we will move forward,” she while sipping a hot chocolate on a chilly spring evening at the City Creek food court.

Immigrants like Francois see the H1-B visa as a path to furthering their career and making a life in America. Many applicants are international students trying to transition from student visas to H1-B visas and eventually green cards.

Visa crunch

There are 65,000 H-1B visas available, and another 20,000 for people who hold advanced degrees from U.S. colleges and universities. All of the visas have been issued within the first week for the past 16 years. To deal with the glut of applications, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has moved to lottery system.

Last year, employers filed 190,098 petitions, including 95,855 on behalf of foreign-born professionals who had earned a graduate degree from a U.S. university, well above the 85,000 cap.

Thousands of talented professionals get turned away, including people who already know English, understand American culture and who have conducted research in the U.S. as graduate students.

“This is not an unfamiliar scenario to me,” Salt Lake immigration attorney Tim Wheelwright said of Francois’ situation. He does not represent her.

Francois is in the country on an F-1 student visa, which allows her optional practical training, or OPT, for one year in her major area of study. After that, she doesn’t know where she will be. Her construction management degree doesn’t qualify for the two-year science, technology, engineering and math extension.

” Employers are getting tired of applying and not being selected. “
Tim Wheelwright, Salt Lake immigration attorney

Optional practical training is intended to give U.S. companies that employ foreign workers multiple opportunities to apply for an H-1B visa, which would be a logical next step for Francois.

“But as she’s encountered, there are a number of employers that are leery of the H-1B process because of the expense and the uncertainty,” Wheelwright said, noting businesses filed more than 200,000 petitions for the 85,000 visas made available in April. “Employers are getting tired of applying and not being selected.”

Choke points

President Donald Trump’s “Buy America, Hire American” executive order has had an impact on employers.

According to data obtained by the National Foundation for American Policy, immigration services has begun to increase H-1B visa denials as well as the number of requests for evidence issued for applicants, Forbes reported.

“Employers report the time lost due to the increase in denials and requests for evidence has cost millions of dollars in project delays and contract penalties, while aiding competitors that operate exclusively outside the United States,” Forbes reported, citing a National Foundation for American Policy source.

An Orrin G. Hatch Foundation report in April showed that the H-1B is “vastly overextended.”

“This overreliance on the H-1B visa program creates choke points in our talent pipeline where skilled individuals either cannot move forward or simply choose to leave,” according the report.

The foundation suggests raising the H-1B cap and tying it to market demand to meet the needs of a modern economy. It also calls for immigration reform, including a fast track to citizenship for international student graduates and entrepreneurs.

Sen. Mike Lee has attempted to break up the work visa backlog since being elected nearly nine years ago. Per-country quotas cause much longer wait times for immigrants from countries with large populations than for those from smaller countries.

The Utah Republican has introduced bills to remove per-country caps for H-1B visas and employment-based green cards, but despite bipartisan support, none have passed, including one a conservative senator blocked from advancing at the end of June.

Lee has said educating, training and employing the best and brightest, whether from the U.S. or abroad, is essential to the vibrancy of the economy and continued innovation.

Brain drain

An Arizona congressman, though, wants to cut off one path that foreign graduates take to get an H-1B visa.

Republican Rep. Paul Gosar plans to introduce legislation to end the optional practical training program, which according to Pew Research grew 400% in the decade after the government in 2008 boosted the amount of time STEM students and graduates could stay in the U.S. and work, Bloomberg reported in June.

Pew found that between 2004 and 2016, almost 1.5 million foreign graduates of U.S. colleges and universities have been allowed to work through the program, with 53% specializing in STEM fields.

Gosar also wrote a letter to Trump asking him to kill the optional practical training program by executive order, arguing millions of American citizens are willing and able to take those jobs, they just need a chance at employment.

But a recent study by the Society for Human Resources Management found that 83% of employers were having difficulty filling open positions, with 75% of those employers saying candidates did not have the necessary skills, like data science and STEM training.

Filling unfilled jobs like those is precisely the role immigration should play, but it is proving increasingly more difficult as employers use a 20th century immigration system to meet the needs of a 21st century economy, according to the Hatch report.

Francois said she feels like a pawn in a political game.

“I feel like that’s a big brain drain for the U.S. because all of us were getting our education here. We love this country. We love our friends, families and we want to build a life here. We want to see this country be more competitive, still be a big country. But when you treat us like we’re an enemy, it’s not a good thing. It’s not contributing to what this country was founded upon,” Francois said.

Seeking asylum

In 2014, Francois’ politically active mother in Haiti started receiving threatening phone calls. Antagonists burned down one of her stores. She fled to the United States seeking asylum through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services but eventually returned to Haiti.

Francois sought political asylum at the time as well, but being in the country legally worked against her.

The email she received from the Houston Asylum Office reads: “On the matter of your asylum case, you received a final denial of your claim. Because you were/are still in status, you were not placed in removal proceedings, and you may refile your asylum case if you wish.”

Francois took the decision hard.

“I was really disappointed and shocked. I feel like I was treated as an object. I feel that as an immigrant I was dehumanized,” she said.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokeswoman Debbie Cannon said the agency doesn’t comment on individual cases.

Francois has tried navigating the labyrinth that is the U.S. immigration system. The Citizenship and Immigration Services website, she said, is maddening.

“You go through forms and forms and forms, links and links and links, and then you end nowhere. You get confused and you don’t understand what they are requiring, and that can be the downfall for any immigrant because what you don’t know can hurt you so much more. You can find yourself waking up the next day and you are to be deported just because you ignored one thing in a new law or in a revised law,” she said.

Francois’ reapplied for asylum but for more than two months had no idea how immigration services treated her application because she never heard back. She resubmitted it a few weeks ago. The delays could effect her eligibility.

“It’s really draining mentally, emotionally, everything. It’s hard. At the end, you feel like you’re just an object, you’re just a piece of something people can mold as they wish during political battles,” she said.

In mid-June, Citizenship and Immigration Services announced expansion of its information services modernization program to Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Montana and Wyoming.

The agency encourages applicants to look at its website or call its contact center to get questions answered rather than visit local immigration offices. The agency says it saves people time and allows immigration officers to work on completing cases quicker.

The problem with that, Francois said, is that often no one answers the phone.

Where to turn

Francois and her husband have also sought out top lawyers for help.

“Crazily,” she admits, they traveled to New York to meet with a lawyer who charged $500 an hour. One hour was all they could afford. They went to Florida only to learn the attorney there didn’t take out-of-state cases. They have even resorted to attending events where they might meet a famous person who has the president’s ear.

“Right now, I’m thinking maybe I should go to (Democratic U.S. House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi because she’s pretty fierce. I like her. … And maybe she would do something about it. I don’t know,” Francois said.

Francois said she’ll leave it to politicians figure out how fix the nation’s immigration system. But she does have some advice:

“Just see other people as human beings. Humanize them, and then you will find the solution. Humanize every single person who is contributing to this country and you will resolve any other issue,” she said.

The struggle for citizenship is draining on her family’s energy and bank account. And even if she were to get a work visa, Francois would have another battle to fight.

Women aren’t exactly welcome in the construction business. She started out as not just the only woman but the only black woman in construction management at BYU-Idaho. When she was failing her statics class, a professor told her she wasn’t going to make it and that she should quit.

“I went to the bathroom and cried for four hours,” she said. “I cried my soul out.”

That same semester she won an award at a competition with 120 other schools.

“I call it a tender mercy,” Francois said. “I call it a sign from God that I was supposed to stay in construction.”

Francois has a passion for commercial construction, big buildings and challenging projects. Like her mother, she won’t take no for an answer. She intends to stick with it whether she gets a job or not. She knows she will find a way.

In addition to her mom, Oprah Winfrey had an influence on Francois from the time she started reading Winfrey’s magazine O as a teenager in Haiti.

24comments on this story“I was like, ‘One day I’m going to meet that woman. I’m going to tell her I want to talk to her.’ It hasn’t happened or maybe it won’t happen, I don’t know,” she said.

Meantime, Francois is doing everything she can to get more women excited about STEM careers. She’s working in a peer program to encourage young women to enter those fields.

America, she said, is full of opportunities, seen and unseen.

“Ii doesn’t matter if I get a job that pays or I don’t,” Francois said. “What’s important for me is if I die tomorrow, I would feel like I’ve been here, I left a little mark.”

Source: How H-1B visa quotas are denying educated immigrants the American dream

H-1B: U.S. employers say Canada’s immigration policies better, as tech booms north of border

These articles keep on coming:

About two-thirds of U.S. employers see Canada’s immigration policies as more favorable than those at home, while a single Canadian city has seen more tech job growth than the Bay Area, Seattle and Washington, D.C. combined, according to a new report.

“Canada has been using friendly immigration policies as one of its key tools to aggressively attract tech companies,” said the 2019 Immigration Trends Report from Envoy, a firm selling immigration services to companies.

Of the 405 HR professionals and hiring managers who participated in Envoy’s survey late last year, 38 percent said their companies were thinking about expanding to Canada, and about a fifth said they already had one or more offices there, according to the report.

Toronto in 2017 added more tech jobs than the Bay Area, Seattle and Washington, D.C. together, and the nation’s capital, Ottawa, boasts more than 1,700 tech companies, the report said.

The firm’s findings come amid a fierce national debate over immigration, with significant controversy over the H-1B visa. The immigration trends report highlights heightened scrutiny of H-1B applications by federal authorities carrying out President Donald Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” executive order.

San Francisco immigration lawyer Pavan Dhillon, who specializes in helping people obtain work permits and residency in Canada, pointed in a tweet to “Green card backlogs & attacks on legal immigration” as reasons why it appears from Silicon Valley that the American Dream is being replaced by the Canadian Dream.

A Quartz magazine article Tuesday argued that Canada is in fact eating our American Dream. Tech founder Vartika Manasvi told Quartz she chose Calgary over Silicon Valley as the location for StackRaft, a startup making a jobs platform.

“People don’t want to risk long-term careers and live with uncertainty in the U.S.,” Manasvi said. “Finding another visa or transferring the H-1B can be stressful. The Canadian immigration system is gradually moving towards becoming more and more skill-based.”

Among the benefits of immigrating to Canada instead of the U.S., Quartz reported, are faster visa processing times and cheaper fees; a more predictable visa-allocation system than America’s H-1B lottery; employment for visa holders’ spouses at a time when the Trump Administration is moving to ban H-1B holders’ wives and husbands from jobs; and permanent residency in two years or citizenship in three, compared to a green card wait that can last many years in America.

Source: H-1B: U.S. employers say Canada’s immigration policies better, as tech booms north of border

Canada’s becoming a tech hub thanks to Donald Trump immigration policies

One of the rare benefits to Canada of the Trump administration:

US companies are going to keep hiring foreign tech workers, even as the Trump administration makes doing so more difficult. For a number of US companies that means expanding their operations in Canada, where hiring foreign nationals is much easier.

Demand for international workers remained high this year, according to a new Envoy Global survey of more than 400 US hiring professionals, who represent big and small US companies and have all had experience hiring foreign employees.

Some 80 percent of employers expect their foreign worker headcount to either increase or stay the same in 2019, according to Envoy, which helps US companies navigate immigration laws.

That tracks with US government immigration data, which shows a growing number of applicants for high-skilled tech visas, known as H-1Bs, despite stricter policies toward immigration. H-1B recipients are all backed by US companies that say they are in need of specialized labor that isn’t readily available in the US — which, in practice, includes a lot of tech workers.

Major US tech companies, including Google, Facebook, and Amazon, have all been advocating for quicker and more generous high-skilled immigration policies. To do so they’ve increased lobbying spending on immigration.

CompeteAmerica, a pro-immigration coalition of employers whose members include Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, wrote to Homeland Security last fall saying that Trump’s immigration policies were bad for business and their employees.

Business Roundtable, an association of top US CEOs that includes Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, and IBM’s Ginni Rometty, expressed a similar sentiment in a letter to Homeland Security last year.

“Due to a shortage of green cards for workers, many employees find themselves stuck in an immigration process lasting more than a decade. These employees must repeatedly renew their temporary work visas during this lengthy and difficult process,” the group wrote in August. “Out of fairness to these employees — and to avoid unnecessary costs and complications for American businesses — the US government should not change the rules in the middle of the process.”

So far, these efforts haven’t accomplished much.

Recent immigration data shows the US is issuing fewer total visas to these types of workers than in previous years. This is a result of an executive order Trump issued in 2017 to review the H-1B process and make good on his pledge to “Hire American.”

It’s also made the whole process of sourcing these workers much more difficult, which in turn makes the hiring process more expensive. Some 60 percent of applications required additional paperwork in the last quarter of 2018, twice as much as two years earlier.

For the most part, the reason US companies are hiring international tech labor is because there aren’t enough skilled Americans to do that work.

This is a systemic problem that has its roots in a lack of pertinent science, or STEM, education. Indeed, the number of STEM job openings outpaces the number of unemployed STEM workers, according to a report by the New American Economy, a bipartisan business coalition launched by Michael Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch. The organization found that 23 percent of all STEM workers in the US are immigrants.

Our loss is Canada’s gain

To get the tech talent they need, US companies are hiring outside the US, with Canada being a common choice.

Sixty-three percent of employers surveyed in the Envoy study are increasing their presence in Canada, either by sending more workers there or by hiring foreign nationals there, according to the Envoy survey. More than half of those did both. Another 65 percent of hiring professionals said Canada’s immigration policies are more favorable to US employers than US policies.

Of those surveyed, 38 percent are thinking about expanding to Canada, while 21 percent already have at least one office there.

And Canada has become a more obvious choice for foreign nationals in the first place.

Kollol Das, a former electronic engineer and gaming startup founder from India who now specializes in machine learning, was offered two high-skilled tech jobs last fall, one based in New York and one based in Toronto.

He immediately chose the latter.

The H-1B process in the US could have taken six months or longer, while the entire process in Canada — from being offered the position to moving to Toronto — took him less than two months. The visa portion of the process took about a week.

“The fact that the whole process is so long made it so that I didn’t even think further ahead,” said Das, who is currently a research lead at Sensibill, a Toronto-based financial services company that uses big data. Had the immigration process been the same? “Then I might have looked more at the kind of role I’d have in each place.”

Canada has weathered similar high-tech worker shortages to the US, but its response has been to welcome immigrants with relatively open arms. Its immigration minister announced last year that Canada would increase the number of immigrants it accepts each year by 40,000, for a total 350,000 in 2021.

Its Global Skills Strategy program — Canada’s equivalent to the H-1B — expedites the immigration process for high-skilled workers to just two weeks or less. Last year, the program brought in more than 12,000 workers, approving 95 percent of applicants. A quarter of those came from India and another quarter came from the US.

Such policies have been a boon for Canadian tech companies.

“I was a serial entrepreneur and I spent most of my career watching a brain drain from Canada,” said Yung Wu, the CEO of MaRS Discovery District, a tech-innovation hub based in Toronto that includes 1,300 entrepreneurial ventures. “This is the first time in my career I’ve seen a brain gain.”

As a result, Wu said MaRS companies saw a more than A 100 percent increase in jobs created in 2017 compared to 2016 — and a nearly 200 percent increase in revenue, for cumulative sales of $3.1 billion. “There’s a really strong correlation between talent and innovation,” Wu said.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that Canada has become a major tech hub. Toronto ranked No. 4 last year on CBRE’s tech talent list. That put it just behind San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC, as a top location for tech workers. It also created more new jobs than those top three cities combined.

Another Canadian city, Ottawa, saw the fastest percentage growth in tech employment of any city in the US or Canada.

CBRE, a real estate firm, does this annual report precisely because the location of tech talent dictates so much of the economy — including where companies locate their offices and invest capital.

Immigrants are an integral part of that talent.

“Immigrants create jobs; they don’t take away jobs,” Wu said. “America’s loss right now is Canada’s gain.”

Source: Canada’s becoming a tech hub thanks to Donald Trump immigration policies

How Toronto Is Wooing Tech Immigrants Away From Silicon Valley

More on a Canadian advantage:

“Nobody calls it Maple Valley,” says Yung Wu. What about Silicon Valley North? No, that nickname hasn’t caught on either, he replies amiably: “We’re not Silicon Valley.”

Toronto’s understated technology community has politely defied outsiders’ attempts to define its rapid growth in relation to California’s unmatched innovation engine. Yet veteran entrepreneurs such as Wu admit to taking some pride in last year’s discovery that Canada’s largest city had created more tech jobs than San Francisco — or any other U.S. metropolis — in the preceding five years.

Its population of software developers, engineers and programmers grew by more than half between 2012 and 2017, according to CBRE, the commercial real estate firm. The 82,100 technology jobs it added over that period made it North America’s fastest-growing tech center, CBRE calculated, to the surprise of many south of the border. Wu, who runs a hub for startups called MaRS Discovery District on the site of Toronto General Hospital, where the use of insulin was pioneered, sees several reasons for this “brain gain,” from the city’s relative affordability to the work being done on artificial intelligence at the University of Toronto.

But he and many of the entrepreneurs on his bustling 1.5-million-square-foot campus credit one new factor with helping Toronto attract ambitious foreign tech workers who would once have headed for Silicon Valley by default: Since the elections of Justin Trudeau in 2015 and Donald Trump in 2016, attitudes to immigration in Ottawa and Washington have diverged markedly.

“There’s a chill going on south of the border,” says Toby Lennox, CEO of Toronto Global, the group tasked with attracting foreign investment to North America’s fourth-largest city. “Right now we’re positioning ourselves to be a lot more welcoming.”

America’s president has not threatened to build a wall along its northern border, but he has made it harder for even skilled foreigners to enter the U.S., where they could undercut the country’s homegrown workforce. In particular, his administration has tightened the requirements for granting H-1B visas and threatened to ban spouses of people on such permits from working.

Up to 85,000 people enter the U.S. each year under the H-1B program, which was introduced to help bring in highly skilled talent but has often been accused of being misused by employers more interested in replacing U.S. workers with cheaper foreigners.

Some U.S. executives concede that reforms are needed but say Trump’s actions and rhetoric have left white-collar employees, who once assumed a U.S. visa was almost a formality, feeling insecure and facing unexplained delays. In a tight labor market, corporate America has stepped up its lobbying for a more open regime.

The Business Roundtable (BRT), a group of CEOs from U.S. companies including Apple and Cisco, warned last summer that the Trump administration’s “buy American and hire American” policies were resulting in “arbitrary and inconsistent” visa adjudications. Since then the BRT has called for an increase in the number of H-1Bs granted, more predictability in the way skilled workers’ visas are assessed and greater efforts to retain international students with top science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees from U.S. universities.

***

The prescription has a distinctly Canadian ring to it. Canada already grants foreign students work permits for up to three years after graduation, and in June 2017 the country’s immigration and employment authorities launched what they called their Global Skills Strategy, with the goal of making it easier for employers to bring in highly skilled foreign workers.

Among its promises was that work permits for such individuals (and their families) would be processed within two weeks, subject to police and medical checks. Within little more than a year, more than 12,000 people had applied, of whom 95 percent had been accepted.

Some had applied for H-1Bs and been turned down, says Irfhan Rawji, a Canadian venture capitalist who launched a nearshoring company called MobSquad last October to help U.S. tech companies fill vacancies with people based in Canada. “We cannot build this country without skilled workers, and we do not have enough of them,” he says. More than 200,000 people apply each year for the 85,000 H-1B visas the U.S. offers, he notes. “So we knew there were 115,000 people who didn’t win the lottery who were willing to come to North America.”

There is nothing new about Canada being receptive to immigration: Some 51 percent of Toronto’s residents were born in another country — more than New York’s 40 percent. But the strategy has given a new tech focus to Canada’s immigration policy: The most common professions among those admitted were developers, computer analysts, university professors and software engineers.

This is already having a tangible impact, according to Elissa Strome, executive director of the $125 million Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy at CIFAR, a research institute based in the MaRS building.

“I think where Canada has really benefited on immigration is the change in our own policy, not the change in U.S. policy,” she says. “When I talk to CEOs, that speed of decision-making is what’s made the difference.”

Toronto’s entrepreneurs say a tech-friendly immigration system is essential because there are some skills they simply cannot find locally. “It is hard to find enough people with experience of large-scale consumer tech companies anywhere other than Silicon Valley,” says Ray Reddy, CEO of Ritual, a food-ordering app for office workers picking up lunch from local restaurants. “We have to import them.”

Ben Zifkin, CEO of Hubba, is among the entrepreneurs to have taken advantage of the Global Skills Strategy. His online marketplace for small retailers is starting a recruitment program in Tel Aviv to bring soldiers leaving the army to Toronto for a year. “If you want to come up here, I will have you a visa in two weeks. The ability to say that was a pretty impactful thing,” he says.

Among Toronto’s recent arrivals is Protik Das. He moved to the U.S. from Bangladesh in 2012 to study aerospace engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, but the defense companies he met made clear that they were not interested in hiring non-Americans.

He tried his own startup but discovered that he could not apply for an H-1B visa while working for himself and would have to leave the U.S. within a year of graduation unless he could find an employer in the field he had studied to sponsor him. So in September 2017 he moved to Canada, where he is now an engineer with a company applying digital technology to wound care.

Bangladeshi friends who opted for Canadian universities were “way more relaxed about the situation,” he says, adding that he now advises younger Bangladeshis to choose Canada over the U.S. “because you have more guarantees in Canada.”

Das struggles to understand why the U.S. accepts bright foreigners to its universities, trains them and then lets them slip away. “Very talented people are spending a lot of money to come and study in the U.S.,” he says. But the stress the country’s visa process induces means U.S. companies “end up losing talent,” he argues.

***

Canada’s more welcoming approach has not only helped pull in people from the other side of the world such as Das, Hubba’s Zifkin observes — it has also made it easier to attract Americans and coax back Canadians working in the U.S.

“When 2016 happened, everybody thought that every tech worker would be walking across the border from Buffalo,” he says. “It wasn’t going to happen, but we now have the ability to go to New York and the Valley and wiggle people out.”

Canada has long worried about a “brain drain,” and a recent study found that a quarter of the 2015 and 2016 STEM graduates from the Universities of Toronto, British Columbia and Waterloo were working outside the country, most of them in higher-paying U.S. tech clusters. But a growing domestic tech industry is persuading more Canadians to stay or to return.

Ian Logan is among those who have come back. He grew up in Toronto but moved to the U.S. after he graduated in 2008 because the biggest Canadian name he knew in technology was RIM, the company that brought the world the BlackBerry. He ended up working for Airbnb in San Francisco but wanted a more family-friendly city when he and his wife had a child.

He returned to Toronto in 2017 to “a dramatically different tech scene” from the one he left and a job as vice president of engineering at Drop, a 60-person company with a loyalty points app. Several former colleagues are now considering following him north, he says, “because they have real visa challenges” or because they are attracted by Toronto’s lower cost of living.

“There was always good tech talent across Canada, but it was largely going south. Now that’s changed,” says Gord Kurtenbach, senior director of research at design software group Autodesk, who worked at Apple and Xerox Parc a generation ago.

“I never believed in my lifetime I’d be back working in Toronto,” he says, sitting in his AI-designed office on the MaRS campus. A decade ago, he says, his computer science lab was the only one of its kind in Toronto. Now, there are more than a dozen: Uber set up a Toronto lab in 2017 to research self-driving cars, Samsung has an AI center in the MaRS building and Nvidia and Microsoft are among the U.S. companies that have hired researchers in the city.

Such companies once used Toronto only as “a holding pen” for international employees waiting for U.S. visas, says Ritual’s Reddy. “Now it’s starting to be the end destination.”

***

Mary Louise Cohen, a Washington lawyer who set up a company with her husband to connect skilled refugees with employers around the world, recalls a meeting on immigration they attended in Ottawa in 2017.

“It really struck us how Canada saw that they were in a global talent competition and how they intended to win. Canada, I think, recognizes that they are a country of immigrants, that their strength is because of their diversity and that to grow and expand they have to bring in the best and brightest around the world,” she says. “I’m hoping in the coming years there will be much greater recognition that skilled immigration is valuable to the United States.”

Trump surprised many in the U.S. business community with a tweet in January in which he promised reforms to the H-1B program “to encourage talented and highly skilled people to pursue career options in the U.S.” But CEOs have seen little action since, and their hopes for bipartisan immigration reform are ebbing as 2020 election campaigning kicks off.

The prospect of a change in Washington is one challenge Toronto Global’s Lennox sees on the horizon for his city. “At some point, Trump is no longer going to be president,” he says, and his successor could make it easier for those with tech skills to choose the U.S. Before that moment, he says, “the trick is for us to translate the momentum we’re seeing now into something that’s abiding and resilient.”

To do that, Toronto’s tech companies will have to show that they can compete with the best of Silicon Valley, says Hubba’s Zifkin. “The people we’re trying to attract to Toronto are world-class folks. All they care about is working for winning companies.”

Wu of MaRS insists that Toronto can create enough winners. “We have the opportunity to see our entrepreneurs like we see our hockey players,” he says. “We can always apologize after we’ve won.”

Source: How Toronto Is Wooing Tech Immigrants Away From Silicon Valley

Science in the US is built on immigrants. Will they keep coming?

Noteworthy long read in the technical publication of the American Chemical Society in terms of the expected impact of Trump administration immigration policies and anti-immigrant rhetoric on the attractiveness of the USA for researchers:

Almost as soon as he started college, Morteza Khaledi knew he wanted to be a professor. And he quickly decided that a doctoral degree from a US university was the best path to get there.

Armed with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Pahlavi University (now Shiraz University), in Iran, Khaledi applied to several US universities for graduate school. He was accepted to the University of Florida in 1978, and he has lived in the US ever since. Over those four decades, he rose from student to chemistry professor to, now, dean of science at the University of Texas at Arlington.

“When I was a student, the US was really dominant in science and technology areas, and I think we still have the upper hand,” he says. “But other countries have caught up.”

He worries that increased competition, amplified by the current wave of anti-immigrant rhetoric in the US, will push top international students to choose schools in Canada, Europe, Singapore, and elsewhere. “There are great talents from all over the world,” Khaledi says. “If you close the door or limit them, then it will have an impact on the research that we do.”

Much of the rest of the scientific community is worried too. With constant talk of a border wall, trade fights with China, and sanctions against Russia, immigration is at the top of many scientists’ minds worldwide.

The Donald J. Trump administration has made some changes to immigration policy. The most notable is the ban against immigrants from six countries, including Iran. Other proposals include stricter examination of Chinese students and scientific visitors, changes to the H-1B visa system for temporary workers, and work restrictions on the spouses of US visa holders.

Despite those changes, though, most scientists are still able to come to the US as they could before Trump became president, albeit with the potential for longer waits. Big changes to US immigration policy—including talk of moving to an immigration system that prioritizes highly skilled workers—will require an act of Congress, something unlikely to happen given the wide political divides.

But words have power, and the negative political talk about immigration appears to be having an effect: the number of international applicants to study at US colleges and universities has declined two years in a row. And more and more scientists are starting to question whether the US is the right place for them.

“Every meeting we go to abroad, someone will express concern about US visa issues and visa policy. Every single meeting,” says Kathie Bailey, director of the Board on International Scientific Organizations at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. “Perceptions are very difficult to battle.”

Scientist immigration by the numbers

  • 34.5 – Percentage of doctoral-degree chemists who were naturalized or non-US citizens in 2017a

  • 53.1 – Percentage of doctoral-degree chemical engineers who were naturalized or non-US citizens in 2017

  • 75.6 – Percentage of foreign-born recipients of US science and engineering doctoral degrees in 2015 who planned to stay in the US

  • 24 – Percentage of US patents with at least one non-US citizen inventor in 2007

  • 2008 – Year the number of immigrants from Asia to the US overtook immigration from Latin America

  • 78 – Percentage of US adults who believe the country should encourage immigration of high-skilled workers

IMPACT OF SCIENCE IMMIGRATION

Chemist Hye-Won Song felt limited by the research choices in her native South Korea. So after she finished a master’s degree there, she applied to graduate schools in the US. “There are more opportunities and more research topics going on,” she says.

That same wide range of research opportunities led her to want to stay in the US after getting her doctoral degree at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California San Diego. But staying wasn’t easy.

Song spent five years in her postdoc, in part waiting for her research papers and citations to stack up while she looked for a job. She was also saving money to hire a lawyer to take her through the immigration process.

In the meantime, she had to deal with the constant uncertainty of being in the US on a limited visa. Once Song had to file a duplicate renewal application—and miss a paycheck—when her original paperwork got lost in the system. And every time she got a new visa, she also had to visit the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew her driver’s license. “It really makes our lives miserable, but most people don’t know about it,” Song says.

Eventually, Song succeeded in becoming a permanent US resident, with the green card to prove it. That status made it a lot easier for her to find a job in industry. “A lot of companies, they do not offer to support a visa,” she says. “They want you to bring your green card with you.”

Song’s story is familiar to many scientists who immigrate to the US and stay. They face constant uncertainty with each visa renewal, along with fear that a visit home might mean they can’t return to work. But they keep coming because of the science. “Research-wise it was worth getting here,” Song says.

The domestic US research community, too, thinks it is worth including foreign-born scientists and for the most part has welcomed immigrants into labs with open arms. “Immigration has been a tremendous boost to science and engineering,” says Harvard Business School’s William Kerr, who has written a book on immigration, The Gift of Global Talent.

Almost any way you look at it—percentages of patents, Nobel Prize winners, citations, entrepreneurs—immigrants match or exceed native US workers, he says. Currently, immigrants make up around 25% of all US science and technology workers and around 50% of the doctoral-level science workforce nationwide.

Kerr’s work and that of others has found that for the most part, international scientists don’t compete with domestic researchers. “You don’t have a fixed pie of jobs,” he explains. Immigrants “make the pie bigger, adding on to what natives would have accomplished.”

Immigrants to the US are more likely than native scientists to be self-employed, including as entrepreneurs, says Jennifer Hunt, an economist at Rutgers University. Immigrants are also more likely to hold patents. “More people means more ideas and probably more innovation,” Hunt explains.

Mikhail Shapiro, a California Institute of Technology chemical engineering professor, came to the US from Russia when he was 11. While he doesn’t think his immigrant background changed his career path, he does think it gave him a certain mentality. “There is a desire to seize opportunities and work hard and really make the most of the opportunities you have,” he says.

That has also been the experience of Jeremy Levin, chairman and CEO of Ovid Therapeutics. Levin lived in South Africa and then Rhodesia before getting his degrees and working in the UK. He then moved to the US specifically because of its vibrant science and innovation culture. He commonly sees other immigrants at the head of science and technology companies, and research labs filled with immigrants.

Immigration “has been a critical component not just of driving innovation but sustaining the US economy in a way that is just remarkable,” Levin says.

Levin worries that any tightening of US immigration policy—perceived or real—will have long-term consequences for the US economy, especially in the biological sciences. In 2017, he wrote a letter in Nature Biotechnologysigned by over 150 biotech leaders and founders against Trump’s ban on select immigrants.

The political rhetoric around immigrant criminals and the need for a wall on the US-Mexico border is “raising the specter of intolerance, raising the specter of racism,” he says. “All of this is designed to raise fears around immigration.”

Terrorism is a real threat that must be addressed, Levin believes. He speaks from personal experience here, too: he was once inspecting a pharmaceutical plant in Israel as it was bombed by Hamas, a militant group. But the fight against terrorism “needs to be distinguished from the need to attract incredibly bright people who want to contribute to science,” he says.

“Many of the best scientists in Europe and Asia will choose not to come to us,” Levin says. “They perceive that the barriers to entry in the US have been raised unreasonably high.”

SCARING OFF STUDENTS

Regardless of whether the US is actually harder to enter, there has been a measurable decline in international students applying to come to the US. The number of applications from international graduate students to study in the US has dropped a total of 4% in the last two years across all fields. That average masks a more significant 9% decline in physical and earth sciences from 2017 to 2018, according to data from the Council of Graduate Schools.

Academic and industrial scientists worry whether that trend will continue and whether it will spread beyond students. The chaotic rollout of Trump’s travel ban in January 2017 “really spooked international students and scholars,” says Rachel Banks, director of public policy at NAFSA: Association of International Educators. “People increasingly started thinking twice.”

When people are deciding where to go to college or graduate school, they are thinking ahead to whether it’s a place they want to be long term. People who start their education in another country are less likely to migrate to the US later. “You have to think about the international student experience like a pipeline,” Banks says. As international student enrollment has dropped in the US, it has gone up in Australia, Canada, China, and elsewhere. “No doubt they have taken advantage of what is happening in the US as a marketing tool,” Banks says.

Shapiro from Caltech has seen the impact of stricter policies among his students. Currently he has a doctoral student who has been stuck in China for months because he can’t get his visa renewed. “It’s not fair to them,” he says. He hopes the current atmosphere is temporary. “I don’t care where they come from. I want them to stay here.”

Currently, China sends more students to study in the US than any other country. At the same time, the Trump administration has proposed changes, including more scrutiny on scientists working on robotics, aviation, and high-tech manufacturing, that specifically target Chinese immigrants because of fears they are appropriating those technologies. Chemistry has escaped the spotlight so far.

Any moves that significantly shut down Chinese student immigration could be devastating, Harvard’s Kerr says. Currently, about 9% of US innovation is attributed to scientists of Chinese ethnicity.

“It would send shock waves through the system,” Kerr says. “Nothing we have done up until now would compare to revoking student visas.”

That impact would be felt especially hard in chemistry. Economist Patrick Gaule from the University of Bath has studied the quality of chemistry graduate students from China.

His 2013 study of 16,000 US chemistry PhDs showed that Chinese students in chemistry publish more than average. Their quality—as measured by those publications—equals that of domestic students who receive National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships (Rev. Econ. Stat. 2013, DOI: 10.1162/rest_a_00283). “It’s more difficult to get into a PhD program if you are applying from China than applying from inside the US,” he says. “That’s what I think is driving the results.”

Gaule has also surveyed US chemistry graduate students on their future-employment preferences. He continues to find that students want to stay in the US. People worry that “everybody is going to Canada,” he says. “So far we don’t see it.”

That’s been the case for postdocs as well. Of approximately 80,000 postdocs in the US, two-thirds are international scholars, says Tracy Costello, chair of the board of directors at the National Postdoctoral Association and director of postdoctoral affairs at the Moffitt Cancer Center.

“We want to foster an environment where if someone comes and trains here and wants to stay, that’s possible,” Costello says. “If they want to take that knowledge and go back to their countries, that’s possible too. Science is a global enterprise.”

While the postdoc association is concerned about the immigration-related rhetoric, “We hear the sky is falling a lot and somehow there is still a sky,” she says. Fundamentally, the system hasn’t changed, and while she expects minor changes from the Trump administration, “the status quo for right now is not a bad space.”

In 2009, after finishing graduate school in China, Zuolei Liao came to the US as a postdoc, attracted both by the research and by the culture. He works in uranium chemistry and so expected to have to wait a long time for his visa, but it came through in a few weeks, and he was soon on his way to the University of Notre Dame.

Liao spent several years there and then at Oregon State University, first on a visitor visa and then on an H-1B. After several years, he decided he wanted to stay in the US. But he didn’t take a traditional path: Liao joined the military, which made him eligible for citizenship at the end of basic training.

“I probably would have still joined if I had the chance,” even without the opportunity for citizenship, he says. “I just wanted to get more experience, to make myself a better person.”

After 4½ years in the army, Liao now works at a pharmaceutical company in Wisconsin. He knows only a few other scientists who also turned to military service to stay in the country—but however it’s accomplished, he thinks the US should encourage more doctoral students and postdocs to stay. “We trained them here, so we shouldn’t send them to other countries,” he says. “If you follow the law, you should be rewarded.”

ENDURING EMPLOYMENT WOES

“What Trump has done more than anything is just make people scared,” says Brian Getson, an attorney at immigration specialty law firm Getson & Schatz.

While the Trump administration hasn’t eased immigration to the US, at the same time, “there is no proposal to make it more difficult for scientists,” adds Marco Pignone, who is also an attorney at Getson & Schatz and often represents chemists.

Part of the firm’s job is to reassure people that they can still get an employment visa or green card, Getson says. Visa delays have increased, however, especially for scientists from India and China, Getson says. There are more people who want green cards from those countries than the number available.

One of the main ways scientists come to the US for work or stay after graduation is through employer-sponsored visas. Currently, only 25% of US visas are driven by employment (the remaining 75% are family based).

The H-1B, a temporary visa for high-skilled workers, is sometimes the first step. Nonprofits, including universities, don’t have a limit on H-1B slots. But companies do have a limit. There are 85,000 slots available, and companies nationwide routinely submit double that many applications within days of the application system opening each year. Visa recipients are then chosen by lottery.

A lottery is “probably not the best way,” Kerr points out. Even large companies that apply for thousands of H-1Bs don’t get to choose which workers get the visa slots, which means they often aren’t getting their top choice among their applicants.

Right now, around 70% of H-1B visas go to jobs in the computer and technology industry, while just 2.6% fill positions in mathematics and physical sciences.

The Trump administration has proposed some changes to H-1Bs. One would give people with master’s degrees and higher a better chance of getting a slot.

Another would switch the H-1B application process from paper to electronic. “I imagine it would require a lot of money, but it would be money well spent,” Rutgers’s Hunt says. An electronic system would make it easier to tweak the H-1B lottery so it is not as random. And it could allow for better representation across fields rather than letting computer-science occupations crowd out other sectors.

Kerr likes the idea of giving priority to the jobs with the highest salaries, which generally indicate that a job is harder to fill. Some economists have also proposed giving greater preference to applicants with the highest degrees.

“High-skilled immigration is fundamentally an investment,” Kerr says.

But as clunky as the US immigration system is, immigrants in the US tend to have better employment outcomes than those in other countries, and that may be because in the US, more are being chosen by companies than by the government, Hunt says. “I’m actually not sure that the current system is terrible,” Hunt says.

An immigrant from Germany, Jens Breffke went through “the whole alphabet of visas” on his road to becoming a citizen.

Looking for an international adventure, Breffke came to the US on a student F-1 visa to attend graduate school, then began a postdoc at the National Institute of Standards and Technology using a three-year F-1 extension for scientists called OPT for optional practical training.

But when it came time to look for a job in industry, Breffke felt stuck. He couldn’t easily transition to an industry-sponsored H-1B because visa rules meant a gap of almost a year and a half between the time his postdoc ended and when he would have been eligible for an H-1B—and then he still would’ve been subject to the lottery.

“You have to find someone who wants to hire you so badly a year and a half in advance,” Breffke says. “Even if you are the most qualified person, you will always be second in line to someone who could just be hired this week.”

Breffke thinks he would have eventually qualified for a visa for exceptional scientists, but it takes years for the publications and citations that count toward that “exceptional” grade to accumulate. In the end, his girlfriend proposed, and he got a visa through his marriage. He now works for an electronics company in Boston and also serves as chair of the International Activities Committee for the American Chemical Society, which publishes C&EN.

“I did my PhD in this country and a postdoc working for Uncle Sam,” he says. “I do believe I deserved a chance to work in this country, but the system makes that pretty much impossible.”

CHANGING THE CLIMATE

“Immigration writ large is top of mind for a lot of people,” says Susan Butts, a consultant and former senior director at Dow Chemical who is chairing an ACS committee developing a policy statement on immigration.

This isn’t the first time the society has tried to develop a policy on the issue, Butts says. The previous effort “was unsuccessful because they could not come to a consensus,” she says. She’s hoping for a different outcome this time. The group has looked at data on immigration, as well as examined surveys of ACS members on the issue.

While there are individual ACS members who are worried about losing their jobs to immigrants, Butts says, “there are a lot of data that say immigrants are an important part of the chemistry enterprise, especially at the advanced-degree level.”

If things go smoothly, a policy statement could be out by the end of 2019, Butts says. Having the statement will enable ACS to better engage in immigration policy discussions in Washington, DC, as part of ACS’s mission to support the chemical enterprise.

Major changes to US immigration policy aren’t likely soon, given the massive divide between Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Many advocates for immigration reform in the past have left Congress, and it’s unclear now who will push for reform.

Kerr says that the US has never had an easy immigration system, and people would adjust if any changes are made fairly for all immigrants.

But denying entry to specific groups can cause serious repercussions. The outcome of recent discourse “really has been to fundamentally shake the confidence that people all around the world have in the United States and whether the US is where they want to make their long-term investment,” Kerr says. “We are getting a black eye.”

That concerning atmosphere isn’t just for scientists abroad. Chemist Madan Bhasin immigrated to the US from India in 1959 and eventually got his PhD at Notre Dame. He got a job at Union Carbide in West Virginia in 1963 and has lived in the area ever since.

Just a handful of Indian families were in the area when Bhasin and his wife first arrived. Although he initially heard some talk about foreigners taking away jobs from US workers, anti-immigrant sentiment in the wider community hadn’t been prevalent until recently.

“I’m fortunate to have come here and to be very happy here,” Bhasin says. But he has felt a difference in the atmosphere in the last few years. To be cautious, his local Indian community center hired police to patrol a function after hearing about attacks on immigrants nationwide. His grandson warned him to be careful in the community.

Bhasin hopes that anti-immigrant rhetoric and visa challenges won’t keep scientists away, but he has heard horror stories from some of his scientist friends who visited India on vacation and then had trouble returning. Trying to immigrate “has been a nightmare for some of them,” he says. “Many people are not even considering coming.”

“I wish we could all practice tolerance toward each other,” Bhasin says.

Anti-immigrant sentiment is what prompted Khaledi from UT Arlington to finally get his green card. “The motivating factor was that after 9/11, things got serious,” he says, referring to the 2001 terrorist attack in the US.

One of his students, from Vietnam, was particularly concerned that Khaledi would go to an international conference and never be able to return. “He used to bring citizenship forms, and he would fill out what he could and sit them on my desk,” Khaledi says.

Khaledi knows that many students are considering the challenges versus benefits of staying in the US or going elsewhere. He remembers a particular Iranian student who was top notch, with perfect English and a stellar record, who ended up going to another country because she couldn’t get a US visa. “You want these people to come here,” he says.

“I don’t see what we gain by excluding people. We’re talking about scientists; we are not talking about politicians. You remove the politics from it, and we all benefit.”

Source: Science in the US is built on immigrants. Will they keep coming?

Trump touts plan to change visas for skilled foreign workers

All those articles contrasting Canada vs US policies under Trump have provoked a reaction (factually incorrect as per usual practice):

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he plans changes to the H-1B program that grants temporary visas for specialty occupations such as technology or medicine, but his administration said later he was referring to changes that were proposed last year.

“H1-B (sic) holders in the United States can rest assured that changes are soon coming which will bring both simplicity and certainty to your stay, including a potential path to citizenship,” Trump said on Twitter. “We want to encourage talented and highly skilled people to pursue career options in the U.S.”

It was unclear what Trump meant by a “potential path to citizenship” for H-1B visa holders, who already are eligible to be sponsored by employers for legal permanent residency, which would then make them eligible to become U.S. citizens.

When asked about Trump’s tweet, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman Michael Bars provided a statement about a formal proposal in December for changes to the H-1B process, which are likely to become final later this year.

The proposal is designed to increase by 5,340, or 16 percent, the number of H-1B beneficiaries who hold advanced degrees from American universities. It would also streamline the application process with a new electronic registration system.

“These proposed regulatory changes would help ensure more of the best and brightest workers from around the world come to America under the H-1B program,” Bars said.

Critics questioned why Trump tweeted about a month-old proposal at a time when he is battling with congressional Democrats over spending legislation to fund the federal government. Trump wants to include $5.6 billion for a wall along the border with Mexico, which he says will stem illegal immigration.

Democrats call the proposed wall expensive, ineffective and immoral. The dispute has led to a partial shutdown of the U.S. government that is now in its 21st day.

Doug Rand, a former White House official in the Obama administration who worked on immigration issues, said the proposed changes to the lottery selection process were at best modest and at worst could cause chaos. Some immigration experts do not believe the new registration system will be ready in time for the next lottery, which occurs in the spring.

“The odds that a complicated new electronic processing system will be effectively launched by DHS in time for the next lottery on April 1 is low probability and has nothing to do with a potential path to citizenship,” Rand said.

Trump backs off emergency declaration – for now

Throughout his presidency, Trump has sought to stem illegal immigration and to deport more immigrants living in the United States illegally. His administration has also worked to limit legal immigration, including through a proposal that would penalize aspiring immigrants who use public benefits.

Trump has also derided visas granted to family members of U.S. residents or citizens as “chain migration,” and backed a Republican proposal in 2017 that would have slashed legal immigration in half.

“The devil is in the details, said Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, a nonprofit group which advocates for pro-immigration policies. He said his group, which was founded by tech executives including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, remains “skeptical of vague pronouncements given the administration’s track record.”

U.S. companies often use H-1B visas to hire graduate-level workers in specialized fields including information technology, medicine, engineering and mathematics. But the visa program has also drawn criticism for being used heavily by foreign outsourcing companies that squeeze out American firms.

Source: Trump touts plan to change visas for skilled foreign workers

Trump’s battle against H-4 visa holders

Spousal employment, another Canadian immigration advantage compared to the USA:

When Molika Gupta immigrated to the U.S. in 2013, after marrying her husband who was already working in the states, she had no idea she would be unable to work. In India, she had earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees and worked in patent licensing—but once she came to the U.S., she found she could not work on the H-4 visa, which is given to immediate family members of an H-1B worker. (The H-1B is a temporary visa awarded to highly skilled foreign workers, to fill specialized jobs for which there aren’t enough qualified American workers. An H-4 visa allows immediate family members to legally accompany H-1B holders to the U.S. and study here, but it does not authorize them to work.) She decided to get a second master’s degree, which put her on a student visa, but two years later, she was forced to switch back to the H-4 after striking out with the H-1B lottery. (There’s a cap of 85,000 H-1B visas per year—a lottery system is now used to determine which petitions will be approved.)

“That’s when the darkness and depression and loneliness started,” she says. “I was not expecting something like this would happen to me.” When her H-4 work authorization was finally granted in 2017, employers were wary of hiring someone with a gap in their employment history. “Hiring managers couldn’t understand what happened because they’re not really aware of the immigration process,” she says. Now, she works as a freelancer—and advocates for other H-1B spouses in her situation.

“IT’S JUST FUNDAMENTALLY WRONG”

Gupta is one of about 100,000 women who could lose the ability to work if the Trump administration follows through on yet another anti-immigration measure, which would revoke work permits for H-1B spouses—more formally known as the employment authorization document (EAD). Since 2015, when President Obama introduced EAD, H-4 visa holders have had the ability to work without a green card. At the moment, the green card wait time for highly skilled Indian immigrants—who account for more than 75% of H-1B holders—is decades long, which means that without being granted work authorization, their spouses could be barred from working for the foreseeable future.

An overwhelming majority of those spouses are women, for whom the ability to work secures their economic independence—and helps bolster the U.S. economy. In a survey of 2,411 H-4 holders, the advocacy group Gupta works with (which started as a Facebook page, “Save H4EAD“) found that 94% of respondents were women. Nearly 60% of the people surveyed have postgraduate or professional degrees, and about 57% have lived in the U.S. for more than five years and have U.S.-born children. The women who could be affected don’t just work in the tech industry; they are teachers and nurses and architects.

“These are people who are on a path to becoming permanent citizens,” says Todd Schulte, the president of immigration advocacy group FWD.us. “It’s just fundamentally wrong.”

The Trump administration already cracked down on the H-1B visa last year, when he issued an executive order that led to a more stringent review of H-1B petitions as well as increased scrutiny of compensation and why the job in question requires a foreign worker. Immigration lawyers have reported a higher rate of denials and delays issuing visas. But the decision on H-4 work authorization—which was first proposed over a year ago—has been delayed for months, leaving H-4 holders in a state of fearful anticipation. The EAD work authorization was initially introduced through an executive order by Obama, and Trump could similarly revoke it by executive order, although it could potentially be challenged in court.

According to Schulte, the White House has not made a move to revoke H-4 work permits in part because they don’t have a good reason to do so. “Take a step back and think about how unprecedented this move is,” he says. “This is a successful program. There is nobody saying this is somehow bad for the economy and country who can back it up with economic stats. They don’t actually have economic justification for it.”

WHAT IT MEANS FOR U.S. TECH JOBS

For tech companies, which have historically employed tens of thousands of H-1B workers, a decision to revoke work permits for spouses could compromise their ability to attract talent from countries like India and China. (Microsoft president Brad Smith has cautioned that the decision could force them to move jobs out of the U.S.) In Congress, there is bipartisan support for H-4 work authorization: Earlier this year, Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Mia Love (R-UT) penned a letter with the support of 130 bipartisan members of Congress, imploring Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to preserve the current regulation. Jayapal also has legislation drafted that can be introduced in the event of a decision.

“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous to welcome one person to contribute their considerable skills to our economy, but tell their spouse that they have to stay home,” she says. “Everyone—regardless of gender—deserves to be able to use and enhance their skills, be financially self-sufficient, thrive mentally and physically, and pursue their dreams. Moreover, it hurts our ability to attract and retain workers. Many of our peers, like Canada and Australia, provide work authorization for accompanying spouses. It’s simply the right thing to do.”

Congressman Ro Khanna, whose district falls within Silicon Valley, says that while people in his town halls sometimes express concerns over the H-1B visa, nobody ever speaks out against the H-4 work permit. “I’ve never had a single constituent in my two years of Congress say that the spouses of H-1B visa holders should not be able to work,” he says. “I think people view that as inhumane or cruel.” That economic independence is particularly important, he says, given there is higher incidence of domestic abuse or violence when a spouse can’t work. And in places with a high cost of living—such as the Bay Area—Khanna says the loss of a second income could significantly impact the livelihood of many families.

The one upside of Trump’s rhetoric is that it has raised awareness and shed light on the plight of H-1B spouses, many of whom only realize they can’t work without the EAD aftercoming to the U.S. And some people have a “distorted” image of the women who carry the H-4 visa, according to Gupta. “It’s not like I was waiting for someone to appear as a knight in shining armor and take me to the U.S.,” Gupta says. “That’s not the case for many women out there.”

Gupta and other advocates—the Save H4-EAD group is led by a group of about 20 people—have drawn more attention to their cause by meeting with lawmakers to share their stories. Raising awareness in the U.S. has also enlightened many women in India who may have to move to the U.S. (Though Gupta adds, “Nobody should be forced to choose between their freedom to work and marriage.”) The group is also preparing for a commenting period if and when the Trump administration makes a decision on work permits.

But Gupta says there is little she can do to brace herself for what could be her new reality. “Nobody can prepare for a situation that they don’t deserve to be in,” Gupta says. “Fighting for your work rights in a country that is the most developed in the world is ironic. I don’t know what should be my next action.”

Source: Trump’s battle against H-4 visa holders