U.S. Business Immigration: Year-in-Review

For more reasons than are probably appropriate to include here today, 2017 will be forever be burned into the memories of everybody in the U.S. immigration industry, and all HR and legal professionals who were involved in hiring and/or employing foreign workers in the U.S. No matter your political persuasion, 2017 turned out to not be anything like we all expected at the beginning of the year, fol

U.S. Business Immigration: Year-in-Review
Christian S. Allen

Christian S. Allen

March 2, 2018 03:12 PM

For more reasons than are probably appropriate to include here today, 2017 will be forever be burned into the memories of everybody in the U.S. immigration industry, and all HR and legal professionals who were involved in hiring and/or employing foreign workers in the U.S. No matter your political persuasion, 2017 turned out to not be anything like we all expected at the beginning of the year, following a historic presidential election result.

The year actually started out with some fairly good immigration news for businesses. We got a new I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification form from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency ( USCIS). The new form included some long-overdue changes, making it much more user-friendly for busy HR people. Simultaneous immigration regulation changes also tweaked several parts of the underlying employment verification rules. Those changes allowed for simple things like temporary work card extensions to be treated more reasonably, thereby avoiding common short-term (but always costly) gaps in work authorization for otherwise lawful workers in the U.S.

We all had our own opinions on the new president’s positions about a southern border wall, the danger posed by illegal immigrants in the U.S., and the problems with so-called “sanctuary cities.” Nobody was naïve enough to believe that the new administration wouldn’t attempt some changes to the U.S. immigration system (e.g., President Obama’s DACA program was squarely in their crosshairs). However, most business people also assumed that only Congress would change the core immigration laws and effect substantive change on the U.S. business community.

That “stay calm and hire (legally) on” message within the HR community was essentially how everybody felt going into the annual legal circus that is the H-1B cap lottery filing season on April 1. Few people in the immigration community had given much serious concern to yet another one of the president’s several executive orders: Buy American and Hire American. The order didn’t change any immigration laws (again, only Congress could), nor was it a regulation formally changing the government’s implementation of the existing laws. In fact, the small parts of the order referring to immigration at all simply consisted of general policy directives to federal agencies to ensure that they were enforcing existing laws (which many agencies initially took as an offensive insinuation that they’d somehow not been doing their jobs). However, by the end of the summer it became apparent that those same agencies had received directives to, in fact, alter long-standing processes and practices, the relative certainty of which U.S. business had come to rely on in a healthy economy, with significant skilled and professional labor shortages, across many industries.

Almost without warning, employers started seeing routine temporary work visa applications being suddenly denied by U.S. consulates across the globe. If any rationale was provided for these denials at all, it was usually just a vague reference to an undefined hire American preference for U.S. workers, which has never been a requirement in the U.S. law for those types of visas. Employers with European operations were particularly blindsided by a sharp uptick in denials of E and L class work visas for top managers and critical technical personnel being temporarily transferred to the U.S. Similar results were being reported from the U.S. borders and international airports. And then, a deluge of so-called requests for evidence started arriving from the USCIS immigration agency, in connection with those H-1B cap lottery petitions employers had filed on April 1.

After celebrating the “good luck” of having their petition selected in the Kafkaesque one-in-three odds of the H-1B cap lottery, many well-intentioned companies were hit with long, rambling 10-page letters from the USCIS demanding copious amounts of additional evidence to prove that the company was a genuine employer with a valid professional job offer. Also included in those requests were lengthy arguments that entry-level but still entirely professional workers were somehow no longer eligible for H-1B work visa sponsorship; this again, despite no changes in the immigration laws or regulations at all. Employers and their attorneys have been scrambling for months to respond to these queries, wasting an enormous amount of time, energy, and resources on something that would have been virtually unheard of in the two prior decades. Informal estimates of the number of such novel USCIS requests this summer were in the thousands, and many of those H-1B petitions are still not yet resolved today. A Wall Street Journal article last month summed up the situation well, including this quote: “The goal of the administration seems to be to grind the process to a halt or slow it down so much that they achieve a reduction in legal immigration through implementation rather than legislation.”

So, what does all of this mean for employers and legal professionals in 2018? The short answer is that nobody knows. Until Congress takes up meaningful immigration reform legislation, it’s likely the various federal agencies will continue to take actions that make the U.S. immigration system effectively unusable for many employers. The economic impacts of that on U.S. industry are obvious. For the busy HR professionals in the day-to-day trenches, that translates to a need to be hyper-diligent about their company’s immigration compliance, to be significantly more proactive about routine work visa sponsorships than they’ve ever been in the past, and to work even more closely with competent immigration counsel and help business units and their critical foreign workers to navigate an ever-changing landscape of unwritten government rules. It remains to be seen if Congress will finally wade back into the immigration reform debate. Either way, it will definitely be another interesting year in global mobility.


Christian Allen is a senior attorney in Dickinson Wright’s Troy office, where he practices exclusively in the area of immigration law. He has extensive experience guiding employers of all sizes and in all industries through the maze that is the U.S. immigration system. Chris can be reached at 248-433-7299 or

Related Articles

The Rise and Fall of the H-1B Worker

by Kathleen Saenz Poppenger

Until recently, most people were unfamiliar with the H-1B visa, except for those seeking to take advantage of this temporary worker category.

Rise and Fall of the H-1B Worker

The New Business Immigration Regime

by Christy Nguyen

Five things executives and HR should do.

Business Immigration Regime

Maximizing Your Chances of Approval With an Immigration Attorney

by Best Lawyers

Immigrating to the U.S. can be a complex and lengthy experience. In this article, Best Lawyers evaluates how an immigration attorney can help along the way.

Department of Homeland Security logo with American flag in the backdrop

Maximizing Your Chances of Approval with an Immigration Attorney

by Best Lawyers

Immigrating to a new country is often a complex, arduous and sometimes costly process. To maximizing your chances of approval on your immigration journey, seek the counsel of an experienced immigration attorney.

View of the Statue of Liberty with birds in backdrop

U.K. Introduces Revisions to Right-to-Work Scheme and Immigration Rules

by Gregory Sirico

Right-to-Work Scheme and Immigration Rules in

Paying It Forward

by Best Lawyers

One woman’s journey from immigrant daughter to immigration attorney: her passion, purpose, and pursuit of excellence.

A Woman's Journey From Immigrant Daughter to

The Price of Admission

by Janice Zhou

States and the federal government are engaged in a pitched battle over immigration and refugee settlement—with the legal profession caught in the middle, taking fire from both sides.

Immigration Reform in Connecticut

WATCH: Supreme Court Rules DACA Stays

by Best Lawyers

Three immigration law attorneys join the CEO of Best Lawyers to discuss the Supreme Court's decision to block the Trump administration's effort to stop the DACA program.

Panel: DACA SCOTUS Ruling

Cost of Entry

by Best Lawyers

As naturalization fees increase, a local nonprofit provides financial relief for immigration

Financial Relief for Immigration in Florida

Traversing the Immigration Frontier

by Best Lawyers

Brian Graham Interview LOTY

There Is Hope after the H-1B Cap: Alternatives to the H-1B Visa

by Meredith W. Barnette

Alternatives and options if the change in H-1B visas applies to you or your business.

H-1B Visa Alternatives for 2018

Issue Spotting Guide for Assessing Inbound to U.S. Travel Issues

by Kathleen M. Peregoy

This guide is intended to serve as a resource for management and human resources representatives when making decisions and advising employees/management on travel and immigration-related concerns.

Guide for Assessing Inbound to U.S. Travel Is

Make the Workforce American Again

by Michael J. Wildes

The H-1B visa program allows U.S. companies to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations, including jobs in technology, engineering, science, architecture, accounting, and business.

Make the Workforce American Again

The Inside Wall

by Charla Truett

Are bricks being stacked up against employment-based immigration?

The Inside Wall

Trump and Immigration: Separating Truth from Fiction

by Harlan G. York

Deportations aren’t up, but the people who are being deported are more “newsworthy.”

Trump and Immigration

Myers Thompson: A Leading Partnership in Immigration Law

by Sean Stonefield

As part of its practice, Myers Thompson focuses on helping companies manage their internal immigration policies.

Minnesota Immigration Law

Trending Articles

A Celebration of Excellence: The Best Lawyers in Canada 2024 Awards

by Best Lawyers

As we embark on the 18th edition of The Best Lawyers in Canada™, we are excited to highlight excellence and top legal talent across the country.

Abstract image of red and white Canada flag in triangles

The Long, Short, Thick and Thin of It

by Avrohom Gefen

“Appearance discrimination” based on employees’ height and weight is the latest hot-button issue in employment law. Here’s a guide to avoid discrimination.

Woman stands in front of mirror holding suit jacket

Trailblazing Titans of the Industry: Announcing the 4th Edition Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch® in America

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers honor and celebrate these talented, innovative newer lawyers who are trailblazing their way to victories in courtrooms across the country.

Connected web above map of the U.S.

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in America Honorees

by Best Lawyers

Only the top 5.3% of all practicing lawyers in the U.S. were selected by their peers for inclusion in the 29th edition of The Best Lawyers in America®.

Gold strings and dots connecting to form US map

Pearls of Wisdom: Celebrating 30 Editions of Best Lawyers’ Rankings

by Best Lawyers

In celebration of our landmark 30th edition, Best Lawyers’ leadership explains how the world’s original and most trusted legal awards maintain their esteem, integrity and reputation for excellence among the top legal entities and their clients.

Best Lawyers logo for 30th edition release with gold glitter in background

Vanguards of Victory: Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in Canada 2024

by Best Lawyers

The third edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in Canada™ has been announced, and the lawyers showcased by these awards are rising to the challenge each day as advocates for clients all across the country.

Blue and black background with small squares connected by lines

Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2023

by Best Lawyers

The third edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America™ highlights the legal talent of lawyers who have been in practice less than 10 years.

Three arrows made of lines and dots on blue background

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in Canada Honorees

by Best Lawyers

The Best Lawyers in Canada™ is entering its 17th edition for 2023. We highlight the elite lawyers awarded this year.

Red map of Canada with white lines and dots

The Best Lawyers in South Africa™ 2023

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers proudly announces lawyers recognized in South Africa for 2023.

South African flag

What the Courts Say About Recording in the Classroom

by Christina Henagen Peer and Peter Zawadski

Students and parents are increasingly asking to use audio devices to record what's being said in the classroom. But is it legal? A recent ruling offer gives the answer to a question confusing parents and administrators alike.

Is It Legal for Students to Record Teachers?


How Long Does a Felony Stay On Your Record in California

by Peter Blair

A felony can remain on your record for life in California. Some felonies qualify for expungement. Learn how to remove a felony conviction from your record in California.

Hand setting bird free out of a guarded fence


Thomson Rogers: Toronto Personal Injury Lawyers

by Thomson Rogers

Since establishment in 1935, Toronto-based firm Thomson Rogers has consistently delivered results for their clients struggling through complex litigation.

Top of a Staircase Featuring Two Large Black Doors with Bookshelves and Chairs on Each Side

Incendiary Behavior

by Lyssa A. Roberts and Rahul Ravipudi

California’s future will see more frequent wildfires caused by faulty equipment. Litigation tied to recent Golden State infernos shows the way forward.

Mountain range with glow of wildfires behind it

The Upcycle Conundrum

by Karen Kreider Gaunt

Laudable or litigious? What you need to know about potential copyright and trademark infringement when repurposing products.

Repurposed Products and Copyright Infringemen

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers® in the United States

by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers listed in the 28th Edition of The Best Lawyers in America® and in the 2nd Edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2022.

2022 Best Lawyers Listings for United States

The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2024 Launch

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is excited to announce The Best Lawyers in Australia™ for 2023, including the top lawyers and law firms from Australia.

Australian Parliament beside water at sunset