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Worker visa red tape worries companies

Employers struggle to fill jobs, cite U.S. delays in approving foreign applicants by Nelson D. Schwartz and Steve Lohr The New York Times | September 3, 2018 at 3:17 a.m. | Updated September 3, 2018 at 3:17 a.m.

President Donald Trump's administration is using immigration bureaucracy to constrict the flow of foreign workers into the United States.

The government is denying more work visas, asking applicants to provide additional information and delaying approvals more frequently than just a year earlier.

Hospitals, hotels, technology companies and other businesses say they are now struggling to fill jobs with the foreign workers they need. Corporate executives worry about the long-term effect of losing talented engineers and programmers to countries like Canada that are laying out the welcome mat for skilled foreigners.

In April 2017, Trump signed a "Buy American and Hire American" executive order, directing government officials to "rigorously enforce" immigration laws. A few months later, the president endorsed legislation by two Republican senators, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, that would cut legal immigration by half.

But Republican leaders in Congress have not advanced the bill, and some lawmakers say Trump is using administrative means to reshape immigration policy because those changes have stalled legislatively.

"If they want to have a proposal on immigration, they should send it to Congress," said Rep. Ro Khanna, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Silicon Valley. "The administration should engage in that conversation. To unilaterally and without any accountability change what Congress has authorized is not democratic."

In practice, businesses say the increased red tape has made it harder to secure employment-based visas. That has added to the difficulty of finding qualified workers with the unemployment rate falling to 3.9 percent.

A recent analysis of government data by the National Foundation for American Policy, a nonpartisan research group, found that the denial rate for H-1B visa petitions for skilled foreign workers had increased 41 percent in the last three months of the 2017 fiscal year, compared with the third quarter. Government requests for additional information for applications doubled in the fourth quarter, a few months after Trump issued his order.

Experts say a sustained reduction in immigration could dampen growth over time as more baby boomers retire, leaving big gaps in the job market.

That goes for high-skilled immigrants and low-skilled workers, said Francine Blau, an economist at Cornell. The latter will be vital in fields like elder care and child care, as well as construction and cleaning.

"A lot of our labor-force growth comes from immigrants and their children," Blau said. "Without them, we'd suffer the problems associated with countries with an aging population, like Japan."

The Business Roundtable, a group of corporate leaders, recently challenged the Trump administration over changes that it says threaten the livelihoods of thousands of skilled foreign workers, and economic growth and competitiveness.

In a statement, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said the administration was "relentlessly pursuing necessary immigration reforms that move toward a merit-based system." It added that all petitions and applications were handled "fairly, efficiently, and effectively on a case-by-case basis."

The H-1B program, which was created to bring in foreigners with skills that business leaders argued would strengthen the economy, has long been a target for some politicians. The visa program has been criticized because corporations have exploited it to replace U.S. workers.

Still, many economists say H-1B holders are valuable. Immigrants file patents at twice the rate of native-born Americans and start about 25 percent of high-tech companies in the United States.

"There's absolutely no research that supports the idea that cutting legal immigration is good for the economy," said Ethan Lewis, a Dartmouth economist.

A Section on 09/03/2018

Print Headline: Worker visa red tape worries companies

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