Biden made it easier to get a work visa. Here’s why foreign workers still can’t enter the United States.

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But months later, many foreign workers still cannot make it to the United States.

The problem is layered, with backlogs, Covid-19 restrictions, and competition from other countries all playing a role.

A visa is a travel document, affixed to a passport, that authorizes citizens of foreign countries to enter the United States for a certain purpose, whether it is a business trip, a family vacation, or a student exchange program.

Unlike passports, visas are issued by the country a traveler intends to visit and there are dozens of different visa types covering a range of travel purposes and country of origin.

Nonimmigrant visas are for visitors and temporary workers, and immigrant visas are for people who settle permanently in the United States.

What are the current visa rules for foreign workers?

The White House did not renew the Trump administration’s ban on H-1B visas and other temporary work visas this spring. The decision again opened the visa process to a wide range of workers, from au pairs to software engineers. Here are the visas concerned:

H-1B visa

The H-1B is best known as a visa for skilled tech workers, but workers in other industries, like healthcare and media, are also known to use it.

H-2B visa

It generally applies to seasonal workers in a wide variety of industries, according to the National Immigration Forum, including landscaping, forestry, hospitality and construction.

Visa J-1

According to the State Department, the J-1 is an exchange visitor visa for “persons authorized to participate in work and study-based visitor exchange programs.”

L-1 visa

According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Service, this category covers “people temporarily transferred within the company who hold managerial positions or have specialized knowledge.”

What prevents foreign workers from coming to the United States?

Although the Biden administration has decided to reverse the suite of restrictive visa policies of the Trump era, a number of factors still prevent foreign workers from coming to the United States:

State Department backlog

As CNN previously reported, the State Department is grappling with a massive backlog of nearly 2.6 million visa applications which includes nearly half a million applicants who are “documentarily qualified” and ready. for interviews, according to a departmental legal file.

The backlogs in some categories of immigrant visas are 50 or even 100 times higher than four years ago when the Trump administration began.

Dick Burke, chairman and CEO of Envoy Global, an immigration services company, told CNN on Tuesday that the huge backlog is the result of a staff shortage at the State Department and US consulates that do not not provide visa application services due to the pandemic, including the United States Embassy in London.

Travel complications

The pandemic has complicated the visa process in other ways as well, including air travel. As Burke explained, different countries have different rules that change frequently and can be difficult to follow.

“There is not a great deal of transparency on which country has changed what, and on top of that you have an inconsistent interpretation from the carriers. Thus, some airlines are much stricter to allow people with documents. to travel – including valid green card holders – than others. Others probably take an overly restrictive interpretation. “

“So it’s a lack of uniformity and transparency around the status, and a lack of uniformity around the application, by carriers and ports of entry,” he said.

Competition from other countries

Another level is that other countries are more receptive to foreign workers and offer an easier immigration process.

Canada in particular, said Burke, has a “much more receptive attitude to immigration” and attracts foreign workers who know the “very difficult” process of obtaining US work visas. “They know they have the same time zones, the same language, the same customs, a strong closeness,” he said.

“And so Canada offers an alternative to the United States. People who say, ‘Everybody wants to come to the United States, we can be as tough as we want,’ not so much because of this third development, to know more hospitable foreign jurisdictions that are attractive to employers for cultural, linguistic, rule of law, geographic proximity reasons, ”Burke added.

What is the impact on the US economy?

The problem is, at least in part, the creation of record jobs.

Neil Bradley, head of policy at the United States Chamber of Commerce, told CNN earlier this month that the labor shortage cannot be solved in the long term without increasing immigration.

“We have never seen such a pervasive situation across the country where companies have to turn down work because they just can’t find the workers to do it,” Bradley said. “This crisis is not going to go away.”

As a result, the chamber calls on Congress and the White House to double the cap on employment-based visas, double the quota for H-1B visas for highly skilled temporary workers, and H-2B visas for seasonal workers. , and take further action. to overhaul the immigration system.

CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez, Catherine E. Shoichet, and Matt Egan contributed to this report.

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