For highly-skilled foreign workersapplying for a new work visa or an extension, the stakes involvedjust got a whole lot higher.The U.S. Citizenship and ImmigrationServices (USCIS) recently updated its guidance, taking a muchstricter approach to approving applications that are largely filedby those seeking work in the tech industry.Under the new policy,which goes into effect Sept. 11, agents will be able to denyapplications deemed incomplete or containing errors, without firstasking applicants to address the flaw or warning them of an intentto refuse their submission. Recently the agency also widened therange of cases for which it could begin the process of removingforeign nationals to include those whose immigration benefits, suchas work status, have been denied.The measures are likely todisproportionately affect those whose applications require largeamounts of supporting evidence, said Sarah Pierce, a policy analystwith the Migration Policy Institute. Employees with H-1Bvisas—mostly held by people in the technology, science, andmedicine industries—are currently often asked to respond to arequest for evidence from USCIS to prove whether they are qualifiedfor their work, or whether their job is considered a specialtyoccupation, Pierce added.The updates could make small errors onfilings lead to harsh consequences—including deportation—and arepart of "a broader trend of USCIS becoming more of an enforcementagency than an immigrants benefits agency," Pierce said. The USCISin February updated its mission statement to remove reference tothe U.S. as a "nation of immigrants" and instead included languageon "protecting Americans" and "securing the homeland."In April, theUSCIS said it received 105,000 more H-1B applications than it cangrant, according to a National Foundation for American Policyreport. Still, Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Microsoft Corp., IntelCorp., Alphabet Inc.'s Google, and other U.S. tech giants saw anincrease in the number of H-1B applications approved in2017.The recent move by USCIS "createstraps" for individuals already working legally in the country —orseeking to work here—by upping the consequences for clericalerrors, said Todd Schulte, president of immigration reform lobbyinggroup Fwd.us, which was founded by technology leaders includingFacebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Dropbox Inc. CEO DrewHouston.And it could affect more than just tech companies, Schultesaid. "Cracking down on legal immigration is simply this: It'sencouraging innovation and job growth to happen someplace else."Microsoft Corp. expanded its Vancouver office several years ago, inpart due to Canada's more lax visa regulations.The updated USCISpolicies add a layer of instability for employers. “There's achance that not only is the case going to be denied, but also thatthe beneficiary could be placed in removal proceedings," saidHassan Ahmad, managing attorney with the HMA law firm. "How can youdo business with this type of uncertainty?"USCIS spokesman MichaelBars said the policy changes are part of an effort to help "cutdown on frivolous applications, reduce waste, and help ensurelegitimate, law abiding petitioners aren't undermined by those ableto game our system."The number of requests for evidence to H-1Bvisa petitions rose 45 percent for the period of Jan.1 to Aug. 31,2017 from the same period a year earlier, according to a report byReuters. Given the volume of the requests, "it may seem like itwould be a natural option" for USCIS officers to want to leveragethe new policies to avoid issuing additional RFE's, said AnastasiaTonello, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.But without the requests for evidence, applicants don't have anopportunity to explain themselves if they make a mistake that couldbe as minor as writing their work address incorrectly on anapplication, she said.

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