H-1B visas are used by companies to bring in skilled foreign labor and closely tied with the tech industry. Companies love the program because they can hire foreign workers at a cheaper rate than hiring American workers. This has put the program into the crosshairs of the Trump administration.
One of the Trump administration’s goals is to hire more American workers and fewer foreign workers. In April, President Trump signed an executive order for federal agencies to review worker immigration laws to see how they could be revised to hire more Americans. There were no changes to the program with this order but agencies were instructed to issue recommendations.
“H-1B visas are at the heart of many tech company hiring programs. Any change to this system that makes it more difficult to bring in foreign workers will require massive overhauls at tech companies across the nation – not just to fill those spaces, but also to pay American workers higher wages,” says Hyram Montero, attorney and founder of Montero Law Center. Indeed, Bloomberg has noted that many companies turn to foreign consultancy services to fill spaces rather than hiring American workers.
How Many Visas Are Issued?
Currently, 65,000 H-1B visas are issued each year via a lottery system, with several thousand more issued for specialty degrees and certain positions. A lottery is used because demand is so high. Last year, nearly 200,000 people applied for a spot before they stopped accepting applications.
Trump would rather that all the visas go to the most-skilled foreign workers. The president also wants to crack down on visa fraud and abuse. Many of these visas go to entry-level workers. Trump would rather see those positions filled by Americans.
What Could Change?
Nothing is certain yet, but Politico says that some of the options considered include reducing the number of visas available and the length the visas are valid. The government may also force companies to post job placements to Americans first before going to a foreign placement agency. They may also be required to hire Americans first before equally-qualified foreigners.
Other considerations include a reporting requirement on the work an H-1B holder is doing every six months, as well as limit worker visas after graduation. Foreign students can come in on an H-1B visa and work for three years after graduation.
One point of relief for those worried about their visas is that Trump can do very little unilaterally to change the program. To change any of the parameters of the program would require Congress to act. Right now, Congress is tied up in a huge fight about healthcare and it’s unlikely they’ll want to take up the issue of H-1B visas until that is resolved and the recommendations are issued to the president.
The majority of H-1B visas are awarded to tech workers from India, who are understandably quite worried about their status. However, the issue wasn’t raised by Prime Minister Modi in a recent visit to the White House. It could be because there is nothing concrete yet, but the lack of talk struck ire for Modi back home. It’s no wonder. India’s worker export industry is worth around $150 billion dollars. Any threat to the industry could strike a significant blow to Indians.
Until the federal government puts forth some concrete recommendations, any possible changes to the H-1B program are rumors. But given Trump’s opinion on foreign workers and his desire to hire more Americans, it’s not looking great for the average H-1B visa holder.