H-1B Visa Applications Hit Cap in Just Five Days, Despite Trump Crackdown

Despite fears of the Trump administration bringing the country's H-1B visa program to an abrupt halt, applications for the visas for highly-skilled foreign workers hit the 65,000 annual maximum set by Congress in just five days, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) confirmed. 

"In five days, we received enough applications to meet our cap of 65,000 H-1B visas,"USCIS announced on Twitter last week. The agency said it had also met its 20,000-visa cap for its advanced degree exemption, known as the "master's cap," for fiscal year 2019.

The agency said it was still counting the applications on Monday and would know by the end of the week how many were received. 

GettyImages-908830346 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said the cap for applications for H-1B visas for fiscal year 2019 was reached in just five days. John Moore/Getty

U.S. businesses use the H-1B program to employ foreign workers in fields that require specialized knowledge. Under the Trump administration, there has been a crackdown on "fraud" in the program, resulting in a slowdown in application processing times. 

USCIS also introduced a limitation on the program less than two weeks before the government started accepting applications for fiscal year 2019, temporarily suspending expedited processing for H-1B applications, which allowed companies to pay to speed up the process and learn within 15 days whether a candidate would receive the visa. 

Applications for the program quickly reached their cap despite those obstacles, as well as ongoing fears that hundreds of thousands of workers already employed under the program might be forced to leave the country if proposed changes to end extensions of H-1B visas under the Trump administration's "Buy American, Hire American" plan were approved. 

FWD.us, a major tech industry lobbying group that includes Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, said the high demand should be a strong indicator of how sorely outside talent is needed in the U.S. 

“Once again, the H-1B visa petition window this year has closed in less than a week–and the fact that we could reuse the same statement for nearly the last decade is a serious problem for America’s global competitiveness, and, worse, it is entirely preventable," FWD.us President Todd Schulte said in a blog post Monday.

Schulte warned that scaling back the program would hurt the U.S. economy and argued that "Americans deserve a high-skilled immigration system that makes it easier for us to remain a magnet for global talent and innovation."

Jason Gerlis, the managing director of international consultancy TMF Group USA, warned that the Trump administration's crackdown on H-1B visas would harm the United States' "general competitiveness." 

"With these processes becoming more complicated, the U.S. is in danger of becoming comparatively less attracted to [its] research and development centers," Gerlis told Newsweek. 

"The present administration believes that the public sentiment is pointing in the direction of America first," Gerlis said. "The reason they are supportive of those policies is that they believe they will bring jobs home. Unfortunately, I don't think that those policies and their impacts are so clear cut."

Gerlis added that countries such as Canada and China, which are working to make it easier for foreign talent to get hired, will be "the ones who win." 

"We see our clients looking north to Canada as an alternative. I think that China is probably more of a longshot, but it's interesting to see them making moves in the right direction," Gerlis said.

"Over time, the U.S. is going to find their competitive advantage narrows and problems like restrictions on immigration are going to compound that," Gerlis added. "I don't think it's going to be disastrous, but it is going to lead to a slow bleed."