Despite recent misleading tweet by President Trump assuring H-1B holders that they should expect a potential path to citizenship, the Administration’s actions have so far proven to be doing quite the opposite. There is no direct path to citizenship for H-1B visa holders. They first have to obtain permanent residence, and must then wait for at least 5 years, in most cases, before they become eligible for naturalization with routine requests for extensions of H-1B status for occupations, which should have traditionally been recognized for H-1B classification, have been denied. These arbitrary denials by no means bring simplicity and certainty in the life of an H-1B visa holder, leave alone providing a path to citizenship. More so, Trump administration is proposing a rule that would rescind the grant of work authorization to H-4 spouses.
Ironically, the Administration could in fact make life for work visa holders a whole lot easier - if they chose to make some effort in that direction with the goal of approving rather than denying the visa, bringing about much needed simplicity and certainty to both employers and H-1B visa holders. This used to be the case, where the supporting letter for an H-1B petition seldom exceeded a page or two. Presently, employers must brief an H-1B visa petition as if they are filing a brief in federal court. This is quite unnecessary for a routine work visa application. If H-1B processing resumes in a fair and rational manner, most nationals not born in India and China should be able to obtain permanent residency relatively quickly upon being sponsored by their employers through the labor certification process. The outrageous waiting times are due to the excess demand and limited supply of visas, further compounded by the per country cap, set by Congress each year. On first brush, only Congress can change this and not Trump. As Congress is divided, such changes for H-1B visa holders are unlikely for now. There have been proposals in Congress to eliminate the per country caps, which have yet to pass. However, if he wanted to and had the guts, Trump could change the way we count dependents that would dramatically decrease, and ultimately eliminate the backlogs, thus providing a pathway for citizenship to H-1B visa holders.
Another stumbling block is the process and manner of how the visa numbers are counted. Recently a group of EB-5 investor arguments made the same argument that the State Department was counting visa numbers incorrectly. Their request for preliminary injunction was recently denied, although the case has to yet be decided on the merits. Still, this is a setback as the judge did not accept the plaintiff’s argument that the administration was counting visas incorrectly. Even if plaintiffs were denied the preliminary injunction, the Trump administration could cease opposing the plaintiffs in this litigation and start counting the principal and derivative beneficiaries as one unit. There is no explicit authorization for derivative family members to be counted separately under either the employment-based or family based preference visas in the Immigration and Nationality Act. Nothing in INA 203(d) provides authority for family members to be counted under the preference quotas. While a derivative is “entitled to the same status, and the same order of consideration” as the principal, nothing requires that family members also be allocated visa numbers. If Congress allocates a certain number of visas to immigrants with advanced degrees or to investors, it makes no sense if half or more are used up by family members. If Trump wanted to give meaning to his tweet so as to truly assure H-1B visa holders, even if he may not have known what he was saying, he does have room under INA 203(d) to order the State Department and USCIS to count both the principal beneficiary and the family members as one.