What employers need to know about the new H-1B visa rules

This article looks at the new H-1B visa rules and how employers can still attract overseas talent.

To the consternation, if not quite the surprise, of many technology-sector employers, the federal government recently announced that it would be tightening the application process for H-1B and other work visas. According to The Mercury News, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will now start treating every renewal for an H-1B renewal as though it were an initial application. That change will likely lead to headaches not just for visa holders themselves, but for employers who tend to do much of the application work on behalf of H-1B visa holders. Below is a look at what the change entails and what employers should know.

What USCIS is doing

As part of the current federal administration's desire to "protect American workers," the USCIS recently announced that immigration officials must treat every H-1B and select other work visas that are being renewed as though they were being applied to for the first time. In the past, when a visa holder was renewing their H-1B visa the process was largely a formality and finished quickly so long as there wasn't a very good reason to deny the renewal (such as major errors on the initial application or evidence of fraud).

However, now, anytime an H-1B visa holder is applying for a renewal they will be treated as though they are applying for the visa the first time. As H-1B visa holders know, the initial application process is a long and intensive procedure. Furthermore, because employers take on much of the responsibility for the applications, the new rules will likely mean more headaches for employers, especially for tech companies that rely heavily on the visas.

What can employers do?

The new rules are, of course, extremely frustrating for employers who need H-1B visa holders to fill job positions that there are simply not enough qualified Americans to fill. The H-1B visa is already a notoriously difficult one to get, with just 85,000 such visas awarded in 2015 despite there being 199,000 applications for them, according to Bloomberg BNA.

What employers may want to consider doing is looking at other visa options, which may present fewer obstacles than the H-1B visa program. The H-1B1 visa, for example, is almost exactly the same as the H-1B visa but it is only open to Singaporean and Chilean citizens and it almost never reaches its yearly quota. The E-3 is also like the H-1B visa, but it is exclusively for Australians. Again, its quota is almost never reached, while the TN visa, which is for Canadian and Mexican citizens, has no cap at all.

Help with immigration

Many businesses would not be able to survive without the talent they attract from overseas, which is why any tightening of visa rules is so alarming for them. Fortunately, there are many visa options aside from the H-1B and, by talking to an immigration attorney, employers may find an option that better fits their and their employees' needs.