Recently, it has been shown that the etching of deep trenches in close proximity to GaAs vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser (VCSEL) apertures causes the linearly polarized TE emission to be pinned in a direction parallel to the line etch. In this letter, we show that etching introduces compressive strain or relaxes tensile strain through the creation of free interfaces. An anisotropic variation of strain is the origin of the polarization pinning effect. We report on the enhancement of polarization pinning by postannealing after etching. Photoluminescence and Raman measurements of the VCSEL wafer were taken before and after etching and annealing. The observed shift in the Fabry–Perot mode was used to model the strain, giving 4×108 dyn/cm2, or 0.05%, compressive strain perpendicular to the etch. © 2000 American Institute of Physics.