The State of U.S. Immigration: 2019 Highlights and What To Expect in 2020

Last Updated on February 23, 2023

From increased scrutiny to new legislation, 2019 was a notable year for U.S. immigration policy

Immigration is always evolving, but 2019 brought with it some changes that could impact the next decade of talent mobility. The U.S. saw increased scrutiny of petitions, new policies and calls for immigration reform from both political parties. For employers, it’s clear that immigration will remain a hot topic going into 2020, and staying ahead means staying informed.

What to know about U.S. immigration in 2019 and reminders for 2020, presented with Global Immigration Associates

Immigration scrutiny continues

As we’ve previously discussed, year-end data released by U.S Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) proves that scrutiny of visa petitions continues. In FY 2019, USCIS received a total of 420,617 H-1B visa petitions, and of the petitions submitted and completed, 40.2% of them received a Request For Evidence (RFE). Once a petition receives an RFE and is re-submitted, it’s approved 65.4% of the time, according to USCIS data. While the approval percentage is a decline from previous fiscal years, it actually increased when compared to FY 2018. Other visa types, including the L-1 visa, were also subject to increased RFE rates and declining approval rates.

New social media requirement

Originally proposed back in March 2018, USCIS finalized a rule on June 5, 2019, requiring all visa applicants to submit their social media information to the Department of State. ​Applications must now include any social media account names from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube used over the previous five years (individuals can voluntarily input additional social media accounts on platforms not listed.) Additionally, applicants will also need to provide five years of previously used email addresses, international travel details, deportation status and telephone numbers. 

Wondering about electronic registration for the FY 2021 Cap season? Register For Envoy's webinar on January 15 to learn more.

Proposed elimination of the H-4 EAD program

The H-4 EAD program, which allows the spouses of high-skilled immigrant (H-1B) visa holders to work in the U.S., is currently facing opposition by the Trump administration, as well as a lawsuit from a private advocacy group against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). While the lawsuit was recently allowed to proceed in a district court, the Trump administration’s proposal remains under federal review. DHS has indicated that the program could be rescinded as early as Spring 2020, but at this time, there is no impact to H-4 dependents holding or seeking to apply for EAD cards. USCIS will continue to accept and adjudicate initial EAD applications and extensions under the current rule.

Immigration reform in Congress

Earlier this year, all eyes were on the Fairness For High Skilled Immigrants Act, which aimed to eliminate the annual per-country cap on green cards—currently at 7%—to alleviate extended green card wait times. The act passed the House with bipartisan support in July, but failed to pass the Senate. Sponsors are seeking another vote on the bill, but meanwhile, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) has introduced a competing proposal known as the Resolving Extended Limbo for Immigrant Employees and Families (RELIEF) Act, which addresses concerns that the High-Skilled Immigrants Act would create new backlogs for countries other than China and India, among other provisions.

What to watch in 2020

Electronic registration. The new registration process, first proposed in December 2018, will require employers wanting to file H-1B petitions to register electronically with USCIS for each sponsored foreign national employee in lieu of filing a complete petition upfront. On December 6, 2019, USCIS announced that it will implement the system for the FY 2021 Cap season.

The 2020 Presidential Election. The highly-anticipated election will likely shape future reforms to both employment-based and family-based immigration and the green card process. Stay up to date by following reputable news sources such as the Associated Press, Reuters and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).

Continued scrutiny. GIA expects the trend of increasing RFE rates for H-1B petitions and other employment-based visas to continue in 2020. Minimize your risk by developing a strategic and thorough immigration program that accounts for changing regulations and other unexpected circumstances.

For a full recap of immigration policy changes and updates in 2019, catch Envoy's year-end webinar on-demand with GIA Managing Partner Sara Herbek. Want weekly immigration news delivered to your inbox as it happens? Sign up for Envoy’s Immigration News Digest.

Envoy is pleased to provide you this information, which was prepared in collaboration with Jordan Mendez, who is a Senior Associate at Global Immigration Associates, P.C. (, Envoy's affiliated law firm.

Content in this publication is not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult an Envoy-retained attorney or another qualified professional.