Trump Moves to Tighten Visa Access for High-Skilled Foreign Workers

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Tuesday introduced important modifications to the H-1B visa program for high-skilled staff, considerably elevating the wages that U.S. firms should pay international hires and narrowing eligibility standards for candidates.

Top administration officers framed the modifications as a approach to shield American jobs throughout the coronavirus pandemic, although the Trump administration first dedicated to overhauling this system in 2017 as a part of its efforts to scale back the variety of international nationals employed within the United States.

“With millions of Americans looking for work, and as the economy continues its recovery, immediate action is needed to guard against the risk lower-cost foreign labor can pose to the well-being of U.S. workers,” Patrick Pizzella, the deputy secretary of labor, informed reporters on Tuesday.

The guidelines will immediately have an effect on international staff and employers, particularly tech firms which have lengthy supported the H-1B program and pushed laborious for its enlargement.

Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, the performing deputy secretary of homeland safety, mentioned he anticipated the modifications to lower by one-third the variety of petitions filed yearly for the coveted visas.

The modifications can be revealed this week as interim last guidelines, which means that the company believes it has “good cause” to declare exemption from the conventional requirement to get hold of suggestions from the general public earlier than finalizing them.

Immigration legal professionals and consultants predicted that the modifications can be swiftly challenged in courtroom as a result of they bypassed the conventional regulatory course of.

“The public hasn’t even seen these regulations yet and won’t have the usual opportunity to provide comments, as required by Congress,” mentioned Doug Rand, a founding father of Boundless Immigration, a technology company in Seattle that helps immigrants obtain green cards and citizenship. “Given the inevitability of court challenges, it seems like slim odds that these policies are built to last.”

The government issues 85,000 H-1B visas each year, often using a lottery to award them because the number of workers sought by companies almost always surpasses the number of available visas. Many workers are eventually sponsored by their employers for green cards to remain permanently in the United States.

Some critics suggested that the changes, which came less than a month before the election, were politically motivated.

“Why this, why now, and why is it an interim final rule?” said Theresa Cardinal Brown, the director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “There’s no estimate of the amount of jobs this would actually free up for U.S. workers. It’s a bank shot at best.”

The Labor Department rule, which takes effect upon publication, would increase wages across the board for foreign workers, based on surveys of salaries in each profession. Companies would have to pay entry-level workers in the program in the 45th percentile of their profession’s salary rather than the 17th percentile. Wages for higher-skilled workers would rise to the 95th percentile from the 67th percentile.

“It will also likely result in higher personnel costs for some employers,” according to the Labor Department rule. “The purpose of protecting U.S. workers outweighs such interests and justifies such increased costs,” the agency added.

But Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law at Cornell Law School, said the rule would have the opposite effect.

“By increasing the required wages, the new rules will harm all employers trying to hire foreign workers, but especially start-up companies and smaller firms who may not be able to meet the increased wage requirements,” he said.

The Department of Homeland Security’s rule, which takes effect in 60 days, would also tighten the eligibility for visa applicants. The rule would require the foreign workers to have a degree in the “specialty occupation” they apply for, rather than any college degree. Some would also need to show how their studies provided “a body of highly specialized knowledge” for a potential job in the United States.

The largest share of H-1B visa holders are employed by the tech sector, where they work as computer engineers and software developers. The visas are also issued to architects, accountants and physicians, among a variety of professionals.

The rule will almost certainly have an adverse effect on rural hospitals and other health care providers that depend on a steady pipeline of physicians from abroad because they cannot attract enough American doctors, who generally prefer to practice in urban areas.

For example, instead of offering a minimum starting salary in the $120,000 to $130,000 range, a clinic in northeastern Pennsylvania, which is considered an underserved area, would have to pay a foreign physician around $195,000 or $200,000.

“Entry-level doctors in rural areas will have to be offered experienced-level wages, which may be more than their supervisor is being paid,” said William A. Stock, an employment immigration lawyer in Philadelphia. “This will further restrict the supply of doctors willing to move to parts of rural America. It will put providers in a jam that they can’t afford to hire foreign-born doctors.”

The H-1B rule comes on the heels of a proclamation signed by President Trump in June that suspended an array of worker visas until at least Dec. 31. Groups representing thousands of businesses challenged that proclamation, which affected H-1Bs, H-2B seasonal work visas, L-1 visas for executives being transferred by companies and cultural-exchange J-1 visas, including au pairs.

The groups won a reprieve last week, when a federal judge ruled that Mr. Trump had overstepped his authority in banning the visas.

“There must be some measure of constraint on presidential authority in the domestic sphere in order not to render the executive an entirely monarchical power,” the judge said.

His order was at odds with an earlier decision by a federal judge in Washington, D.C., which ensured that the ultimate determination would be made by an appeals court.

But it immediately set aside the ban for companies that employed large numbers of foreign workers.

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