Without New Laws or Walls, Trump Presses the Brake on Legal Immigration

Miriam Jordandec. New York Times, December 20, 2017

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The Trump administration has pursued its immigration agenda loudly and noticeably, ramping up arrests of undocumented immigrants, barring most travel from several majority-Muslim countries and pressing the case for a border wall.

But it has also quietly, and with much less resistance, slowed many forms of legal immigration without the need for Congress to rescind a single visa program enshrined in the law.

Immigration and State Department officials are more closely scrutinizing, and have started more frequently denying, visas for people seeking to visit the United States on business, as well as for those recruited by American companies, according to lawyers representing visa seekers. Foreigners already in the United States whose employers wish to extend their stay also are facing new hurdles.

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The changes show how the Trump administration has managed to carry out the least attention-grabbing, but perhaps farthest-reaching, portion of the president’s immigration plans: cutting the number of people entering the United States each year as temporary workers or permanent residents.

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One of them, the “Buy American, Hire American” order, singles out the H-1B visa program for skilled workers who otherwise would not be allowed into the country. Hailed by proponents as vital to American innovation, H-1Bs also have been derided as a way to displace United States workers with cheaper foreign labor; in one highly publicized case, some Disney employees were told to train their foreign replacements if they wanted severance payments.

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Officials are asking for extra details about applicants’ education and work history, the position to be filled and the employer, requiring the company to amass many additional documents, which can postpone a decision by several months.

For H-1Bs, the number of such “requests for evidence” from January to August this year jumped 44 percent compared with the same period last year, according to the most recent data from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

So far, the government is still greenlighting most H-1B applications that survive the lottery, but the approval rate is inching down.

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Francis Cissna, the immigration agency’s new director, said in an interview that if there are more requests for evidence, “that is perfectly rational and perfectly appropriate.”

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Still, immigration lawyers and companies seeking the visas say that some of the decisions appear arbitrary.

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Other types of visas also are tougher to get now. During trips to Silicon Valley, Vladimir Eremeev of Russia was encouraged to establish a branch of his cloud-based technology company, Ivideon, in the United States. In Europe, Ivideon employs 150 people, and Philips, the Dutch multinational, sells a camera powered by its technology.

Mr. Eremeev drew up plans, which his lawyer in New York detailed in a 347-page visa application. He was applying for an L-1A visa, awarded to executives transferring to the United States.

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Some lawyers said they had also seen more scrutiny of H-2B visas, the seasonal work permits that Mr. Trump uses to staff his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida. Jeff Joseph, a lawyer in Aurora, Colo., said the government was more often denying visas for companies that sought the visas season after season. (Mar-a-Lago uses them only during winters.)

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Another change affects green card holders who enlist in the military. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, military service has provided a faster path to citizenship than applying as a civilian, typically taking just 10 weeks.

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