Will Washington begin to see fewer foreign-born tech workers?

Mar 22, 2018, 5:48 AM | Updated: 2:40 pm
tech workers, visa...
Washington employers are among the heaviest users of the visas nationally with 25,000 H1B employees statewide. (File, Associated Press)
(File, Associated Press)

Uncertainty over President Trump’s protectionist policies on immigration coupled with an increasingly difficult federal screening process appears to be leading to a decline in skilled worker visa applications in Washington state.

According to interviews with employers and immigration attorneys who write the petitions for so-called H1B Visas, some local employers might have begun to lose faith in the long-term prospects in the U.S for legal, foreign-born workers.

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Washington employers are among the heaviest users of the visas nationally with 25,000 H1B employees statewide.

Megan Vogel, an immigration attorney with Dave Wright Tremaine, said with the opening date for next year’s applications coming up on April 2, she’s seeing a surprising decline in worker visa interest when compared to previous years.

“People are seeing much more prevalent denials and tougher requests for evidence on petitions that were filed so employers just might be a little gun shy right now to proceed with even trying,” she said.

“It’s been a really tough year in the H1B world.”

This is, in part, the intended effect of the president’s “Buy American, Hire American” agenda. From trade tariffs to new barriers for legal immigration and guest-worker employment, the Trump Administration has made a concerted push to narrow the flow of products and employees from other countries.

And this is felt acutely by the local companies that use H1B visas which are defined as, “non-immigrant visa which allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign professionals in specialty occupations for three years, extendable to six years,” according to the MyVisaJobs.com website.

Popular among technology companies, the skilled worker visa historically has been used by employers seeking workers with skills not easily found domestically. Most of the 25,000 H1B workers in Washington are employed in tech companies, with Microsoft and Amazon leading the way.

Critics have claimed tech companies have used the visa to expand the labor pool and drive down wages – something tech companies strongly deny. For states with more than 1,000 H1B workers, Washington state has the highest average H1B salary at $107,000.

Employers say that while the federal government hasn’t lowered the cap on H1Bs – something that might attract unwanted political attention – the US Citizen and Immigration Services department has strongly stepped up “requests for evidence” to slow or even stop the process.

“We are definitely seeing more of those requests,” Vogel said.

One local tech company employee who deals with helping to secure H1Bs, said the restrictions are a by-product of the Trump administration’s misunderstanding of foreign-born, non-citizen workers.

“In the tech industry, it’s often more expensive to hire from other countries when you factor everything in, legal services, moving costs, employee retention,” said the worker who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisals. “We hire American when we find qualified applicants. And we use H1Bs when we don’t.

“And all of it grows the economy. It’s good for the U.S.”

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Will Washington begin to see fewer foreign-born tech workers?