H-1B Visa Outlook for 2021

H-1B Visas are a prevalent pathway for highly educated and skilled overseas workers to gain employment and secure citizenship within the United States.

Each year the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) grants 65,000 H-1B Visas each financial year to those with specialised knowledge in fields such as science, engineering and computer programming.

The H1-B Visa experienced some disruptions in 2020, with current US President, Donald Trump imposing a ban on immigrants’ entry to the United States who could ‘threaten the labour market’. However, with President-Elect, Joe Biden, set to take over from 20th January, it’s thought that the H1-B Visa will experience greater levels of support in 2021.

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How did the Trump administration impact the H-1B Visa in 2020?

During 2020, President Trump imposed a ban on new overseas workers entering the United States, including skilled workers who rely on entry to the US via the H1-B Visa under the Immigration and Nationality Act. The ban was met with staunch opposition from large tech firms such as Google and Apple, who heavily rely on employing workers with specialist knowledge via the H-1B visa.

The suspension took place during a proclamation in June 2020, and whilst a federal judge was able to lift the ban in October partly, restrictions remain imposed. On the 31st December 2020, President Trump extended the visa ban to three months until 31st March 2021, which will exceed his time in office. It’s thought, however, that the Biden administration will soon put an end to the ban.

The reasoning behind Trump’s ban on H-1B Visas was that foreign workers could increase America’s unemployment rate amid an economy ravaged by the coronavirus. However, there was no evidence to suggest that this would be the case.

The June proclamation stated that non-immigrant visa categories would pose a risk of disadvantaging United States workers during the current economic recovery amid COVID-19. The proclamation outlined how American workers compete against foreign nationals for jobs in every sector of the US economy, including against millions of aliens who enter the United States to perform temporary work.

On the contrary, research has indicated that employment of foreign workers with specialist knowledge can promote competitiveness and innovation within the US economy by filling employment gaps within STEM occupations. As a result, STEM jobs within the US currently have low unemployment rates and even experienced a drop towards the end of 2020. In January 2020, unemployment stood at 3% within the computing and mathematics sector, compared to 2.4% in November 2020.

How will the Biden administration impact the H-1B Visa in 2021?

Following Trump’s ban on the H-1B Visa until March, it’s likely that Joe Biden will reverse the suspension, particularly on workers from predominantly Muslim countries.

With Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris both hailed as pro-immigration, it is undoubtedly recognised that H-1B Visas are a vital route for skilled overseas workers to live and work in the US. It is logical for the Biden administration to, therefore, overrule any anti-immigration policies put in place by Trump.

The President-Elect has previously vowed to be less stringent when it comes to immigration by raising the cap on the number of visas and abolishing green card quotas. Biden also stated that he would not include international students with STEM field degrees within visa caps.

Supporters of the H-1B Visa have also identified areas which require improvement, particularly the selection process. Currently, selections are made via a randomised lottery, making the process unpredictable and unstable. Many have called for the process to be more transparent, allowing decision-makers to be more objective. Suggestions have been made for a points-based immigration system, similar to the UK and Australia where candidates would be awarded points based on language proficiency, skills and experience.

Employment opportunities for spouses and students are also areas in need of more significant support. The Trump administration’s threats to end spousal and student employment opportunities have left individuals struggling to retain jobs and health insurance.

While the H-1B Visa’s future currently remains uncertain, proponents of the visa are hopeful that the Biden administration will offer significant support for US immigration over the coming year, creating further opportunities and strengthening the US job market.