Foreign entrepreneurs setting up businesses in the US have become the latest victims of Donald Trump’s “buy American and hire American” policy, with British business leaders particularly affected.
The latest official statistics have shown a sharp rise in refusals for E2 visas, which are issued to investors, managers and key staff establishing new enterprises in the US.
For investor visas, the percentage of denials rose from 16.4pc in 2014 to 23.6 per cent in 2017. The refusal rate for managers increased from 4.4pc to 8.6pc over the same period, and for key staff the proportion of applications being turned down tripled from 2pc to 6.1pc.
In the case of applications from the UK, covering all categories, the refusal rate increased more than five-fold from 2014 to 10.8pc in 2017.
Figures for last year are still being calculated, but the early indications are that they could be higher still.
Established companies have been complaining about increasing difficulties in securing "L" visas to transfer staff to the US.
“The proof of the pudding is in the stats. There has been a substantial increase in refusals, particularly with essential employees, even though there has been no change in the law,” said Charlotte Slocombe, partner at law firm Fragomen, which specialises in immigration.
Companies trying to set up from scratch faced the biggest problems, she said.
“While the investors themselves are not encountering increased problems, it is when they try to send staff over that some are facing more difficulties than perhaps historically was the case.
“They are more commonly being asked why an American cannot do the job, but in many cases, it is the Britishness which is the company’s unique selling point. A visa refusal has an impact on ESTA travel, so if somebody is turned down for a visa, they can have problems taking their family on that holiday to Disneyland.”
Nicholas Barton, of headhunters the Barton Partnership, observed the changes as he established an office in New York in 2017.
“The rhetoric has changed, that is undeniable,” he said. “I have been told unofficially from a number of sources that the approach towards recruitment businesses trying to set up in the US has been tightened up and my peers across the industry say that it is more challenging than before.
“We are looking to set up a business, which will place US people into US jobs. The headhunting industry is not as mature in the US as it is in the UK, and therefore we need to move UK nationals over with experience so that we can train local people there.”
The trend has also been noticed by Duncan Edwards, chief executive of BritishAmerican Business, a trade body representing 500 companies.
“We have seen a tightening up over the last two to three years and it has been across all classes of visas even though there has been no change in the law and no changes in regulations,” he said.
“We are seeing more requests for further information. The US remains the number one destination for companies looking to expand. The attractiveness of the US market is enormous along with the ease of doing business.
“I think they believe by restricting the supply of skilled labour and encouraging companies to employ Americans, they can push up median wages.”
Jason Sullivan, a New Hampshire-based immigration lawyer, said the US government is demanding far more information than in the past.
“I had a client from Thailand where everything seemed perfect who was turned down. They are getting tougher over evidence from international investors; they are going through everything with a fine-tooth comb.”
A spokesperson from the State Department said: “The statute and policy regarding an applicant’s eligibility for a visa as a Treaty trader (E1) or Treaty investor (E2) has not changed.
“In financial year 2018, there were more than 47,000 visas issued worldwide and 6.17pc were issued to nationals of the UK which is a slight increase from 6.01 percent in financial year 2017 and 6.09pc in financial year 2016.”