The U.S. is suffering from “Brain Drain,” also called human capital flight. This is the process where highly-skilled individuals leave their place of origin and seek employment and opportunity elsewhere. It has been historically relevant to trends like German nationals immigrating to the U.S. before and after WWII. At present, developed countries will often compete with one another to attract highly-educated and highly-skilled workers to their public institutions or private corporations. The U.S. is at a significant disadvantage due to the difficulty in obtaining work visas, especially for specialty occupations.
In the U.S., the predominant visa category for high-skilled workers is the H-1B visa, which has a yearly cap of 65,000 (with an additional 20,000 for those with a master’s degree or higher.) This visa is used by employers to fill “specialty occupations” which require specialized education or training. In general, H-1B eligible jobs must be sufficiently technical as to necessitate a bachelor’s degree or equivalent at entry level. H-1B applicants must therefore possess sufficient credentials in a field which is relevant to their intended job. For example, many H-1B visas have been granted to employees in the tech and IT industry.
The H-1B visa is also unique because it is one of the few visa categories which allows for “dual intent.” This is a concept that permits immigrants to be present in the United States with temporary lawful status and eventual immigrant intent (obtaining a green card). Many other visas prohibit future immigrant intent. This makes the category highly attractive to skilled workers wishing to attain permanent resident status–so popular in fact that applicants must be selected by lottery, as applications far exceed the mandated cap. Over the last 10 years, since 2007, USCIS has repeatedly received well over 200,000 applications per year for the 85,000 available spots. Due to its popularity, the category is also under intense scrutiny by federal agencies who wish to impose stricter requirements for immigration to the U.S.
The current administration has long called for more focus on skills-based or merit-based legal immigration. This puts visa categories like H-1B under the microscope, with potential changes in the applicable laws. There has also been significant push-back from certain groups against visas like H-1B in the name of putting American workers first. Some see H-1B applicants as threatening American jobs and labor. The Department of Homeland Security and USCIS have also proposed revisions to the definition of a “specialty occupation.” According to USCIS, an in-depth rule change could come out next year. These actions could make it more difficult for immigrants to stay and work in the U.S., potentially damaging the economic growth of many American industries.
With America poised to reform the laws regarding high-skilled immigration, many other countries are already welcoming those individuals who may find trouble obtaining or renewing their visa in the U.S. Recently, Canada set out to portray itself as increasingly welcoming to foreign workers, with a new promise to process applications within two weeks. In the U.S., a similar process can take months, and strict application requirements may increase processing times even more. This further drives foreign workers overseas to countries which present a more welcoming front. This could have long-lasting negative effects on the American economy, as companies lose valuable and talented workers.
Visa applications are complex and case-specific. If you, or anyone you know, have questions about eligibility for immigrating to the U.S., please contact a knowledgeable and experienced immigration lawyer.
Sources and further reading:
Brain Drain and Human Capital Flight
H-1B Visa and Highly-Skilled Workers
Highly-Skilled Workers Going Elsewhere
Potential H-1B Changes