Change Is in Store for the H1-B Visa Program

Praised by some as vital to our nation’s innovation and criticized by others for displacing American workers with cheap foreign labor, the widely controversial H-1B program may soon be altered. The program is intended for foreigners with advanced science or computer skills to fill positions when U.S. workers with comparable skills can’t be found. Each year, 65,000 H-1B visas are granted to foreign workers with bachelor’s degrees and 20,000 more are designated for individuals with master’s degrees or higher. Last year, the government received 236,000 applications in the first week of the application season. A firm critic of the program, President Trump has called it “outrageous” and “demeaning” and has promised to overhaul it. Aimed at “protecting American jobs and workers by strengthening the integrity of foreign worker visa programs,” an executive order was signed by President Trump last month to reign in on the H-1B visa program. While it did not impose any immediate changes, the order launched a 220-day review to formulate proposed reforms.

Lawmakers from both parties have drafted bills to amend the program by affording more priority to American workers and raising the minimum pay for the positions, in hopes that higher pay will discourage importing of foreign workers. Further, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently published a memo that could affect many H-1B visa applications and make it harder for entry-level programmers to receive the visas. The memo explains that greater scrutiny will be applied to the roles being filled with these visas. Specifically, companies looking to bring in foreign computer programmers at the entry-level will now be required to prove that the work being performed qualifies as “specialty” labor. Promptly after the memo was issued, the Justice Department announced that it would thoroughly investigate companies believed to have overlooked and discriminated against qualified, aptly skilled American workers.

The USCIS memo can be found here.