As Trump Makes Visas More Difficult to Obtain, What Effect Will This Have on Fashion?

The Trump administration is - potentially inadvertently - making it more difficult for skilled foreigners to work in the United States, challenging visa applications more often than nearly any point during the Obama era, according to data reviewed by Reuters.  “The more intense scrutiny of the applications for H-1B visas comes after President Donald Trump called for changes to the visa program so that it benefits the highest-paid workers,” Reuters wrote this week.

While Trump has not – yet –  enacted any such visa-related reforms, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) has issued an increased number of “challenges” – or “requests for evidence” – to individuals’ visa applications. Per Reuters, between January 1 and August 31, 2017, USCIC issued 85,000 challenges to H-1B visa petitions – a 45 percent increase over the same period last year.

The challenges – which can prove expensive (as they require employers and their lawyers to provide further evidence to prove their need and eligibility for the visas) and time consuming (they can slow down the issuance of visas by months) – have been issued “at a greater rate in 2017 than at any time in the Obama administration except for one year, 2009, according to the USCIS data, which has not been previously reported.”

For the fashion industry, this is significant, in large part thanks to the high number of foreign designers, stylists, photographers, models, and others that count fashion as their industry of employment.

And that is why the Council of Fashion Designers of America, a New York-based trade group, teamed with – a non-profit organization founded by several high-profile tech figures, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg – to demand comprehensive immigration reform.

In connection with a report on the potential impact on fashion of changes to US immigration policy, the groups announced in April that they lobbying for a number of policy changes. Among them: The adoption of policies, including an increase in the number of H-1B visas (more about them here), an expansion of the definition and reform for the the O-1 visa to suit the specialized needs of the fashion industry, and creation of an entrepreneur visa.  

While it already seemed unlikely that these changes would be implemented under the watch of Donald Trump, the Trump administration’s moves to make it even more difficult for skilled foreigners to work in the U.S. suggest that such reform is almost impossible for the time being.

The spike in the number of challenges alone, with their increased costs and heightened “hassles, could, according to immigration lawyers, discourage employers from hiring such foreign workers especially at junior levels.