President Donald Trump's anti-immigration policies and rhetoric appear to be successful in deterring foreigners from seeking work in America -- although "success" is the wrong word to those who believe it will inevitably hurt the U.S.'s ability to create great innovation.
The most significant sign of Trump's policy impact came this week when the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services announced it has received just 199,000 applications this year for H-1B visas, which the tech industry relies heavily on to fill technical roles. This is the first time in years that the number of applications has decreased year-over-year.
"It is very symbolically significant," said Mike Grandinetti, chief marketing and corporate strategy officer at Reduxio, a storage company. "It represents a significant change in how the U.S. is viewed by the world's best and brightest -- no longer the land of opportunity that it once was."
By comparison, companies filed for 236,000 H-1B visa applications in 2016 and 233,000 in 2015. The drop in applications come after two years of campaign rhetoric in which Trump promised a shift toward prioritizing the American worker. Additionally, the Trump Administration recently suspended the expedited approval of H-1B applications while issuing a memo earlier this month stressing that the visa program was designed specifically for specialty occupations.
Trump followed these actions by signing an executive order on Tuesday ordering federal agencies to review the H-1B visa program and come up with ways to improve it.
H-1B visas "should include only the most skilled and highest-paid applicants and should never, ever be used to replace American workers," Trump said in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The tech industry has long asked Washington to improve the program, specifically by calling for the expansion of visas allocated annually (as it stands, only 85,000 are handed out each year). Silicon Valley has also called on the federal government to weed out IT outsourcing companies that have developed reputations for abusing the program to bring over foreigners who work low-skill tech jobs for salaries lower than their American counterparts.
Now, there is cautious optimism the Trump Administration can deliver on these requests.
"We are hopeful today's announcement will do what FWD.us has long advocated; improve our high-skilled immigration system," said Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, a tech industry lobbying group that supports comprehensive immigration reform.
Many others in the tech industry, however, are much more skeptical about the president's actions thus far.
Ophir Tanz, founder & CEO of GumGum, a Santa Monica artificial intelligence firm, said he is concerned the administration is creating a climate that will make it more difficult for his company to hire the talent it needs. Due to GumGum's work on advanced AI technology, it relies heavily on foreigners as there is not enough "homegrown" talent to fill its needs. Of GumGum's last 100 engineering applicants, 70 were individuals who would require H-1B visas, Tanz said.
"Just today, we have four interviews scheduled and three applicants from Australia, China, and India require H-1B visas," Tanz said. "We need to 'import' as many qualified brains as we can."