Draft Executive Order Ending Some Visa Interview Waivers Would Be Bad News for U.S. Employers of Foreign Skilled Workers

A leaked draft presidential Executive Order (EO) entitled "Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals" would implement the "extreme vetting" President Trump has urged, and would potentially create substantial problems and delays for international business travelers to the U.S., as well as to employment-authorized foreign workers requiring visa extensions at U.S. consulates. Among other things, the draft Executive Order would suspend visa issuance to all citizens of terrorist sponsoring countries (regardless of individual merits), compel an Executive Branch review of visa screening processes at consulates (which have been locked down for 15 years now), reduce the numbers of refugees the U.S. will accept (again, regardless of individual merit), revisit visa reciprocity between the US and other countries, and "expedite the completion and implementation of a biometric entry-exit tracking system for all travelers to the United States". While the stated objective of protecting the nation from terrorist attack is of course laudable and necessary, the practical effect of these measures needs to be examined closely before the President imposes them as Executive Branch policy.

For U.S. employers of foreign workers who require new visa stamps in their passports, the EO could create major processing delays, with employees stuck abroad waiting for visa issuance or unable to depart the US because they are unable to schedule a timely, mandatory visa interview. Buried in the EO is a determination to end the Visa Interview Waiver Program which permits many thousands of recently issued visa holders from India, Mexico, South Korea, and many other countries to secure visa stamp renewals without an interview in certain narrow circumstances. Among these is that the visa being renewed must be current or recently expired, and that the each person must therefore have been already subject to an interview. Since security checks are conducted by Homeland Security each time a visa holder seeks to enter the U.S., there is questionable benefit in requiring an additional 2 minute consular interview every few years.

Moreover, a blanket suspension of the Visa Interview Waiver Program would apply to close allies and other friendly countries not known to be hotbeds of terrorist activity (Argentina, for example). Given that there are already huge pressures on consular officials to process visas, one has to question the wisdom of ending a proven and successful interview waiver policy.

For example, skilled Indian workers holding H-1b visas are eligible for a renewal interview waiver in many cases. That's good, since the wait time for an initial consular interview appointment can take 4 months or longer to schedule. If the U.S. consulates in India are required to interview all visa renewal applicants as well, the visa issuance process will grind to a halt. Workers will be unable to travel abroad, or, having traveled, may be unable to return, perhaps for month, waiting for a visa renewal. The U.S. employer must bear the cost and interruption of the absence, and required work won't get done.

But maybe that's the point. The new President has been openly hostile to the H-1b and other skilled worker programs. If the objective is to create impediments to U.S. admission of authorized foreign workers, doing so in the name of combating terrorism provides a great cover. Let's hope this EO never sees the light of day.

Categories: President Trump, Visas