Possible Changes to the H-1B Program Create Some Uncertainty
The H-1B visa program is the popular route through which many companies sponsor highly skilled foreign workers for temporary, non-immigrant residency. The program is especially popular with technology companies, and the H-1B issue was no doubt raised during the highly publicized meeting in mid-December between President Trump and a group of tech luminaries that included the heads of Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Tesla, and Microsoft.
The inauguration of a president who is openly hostile to immigration, as well as accusations by some lawmakers that the program is being abused, suggests modifications that may reduce the quota or make approval more difficult may be in store. Concerns of this have prompted a flood of new applications, compelling the USCIS to suspend its premium service early this month, which guaranteed a decision within 15 days, although its expedited service to qualified candidates remains in effect.
President Trump has yet to reveal his plans, other than to say his administration is evaluating the H-1B program, but two members of the House of Representatives that had been working on the issue together have introduced competing legislation. Rep. Darrell Issa (R, Cal.) introduced a bill that would eliminate the masters or higher degree requirement and raise the annual salary threshold. If a company’s staff consists of more than 15% H-1B holders, it currently must attest that it was unable to hire a worker for any job that pays less than $60,000, far below the average tech salary. Representative Issa’s bill would raise that figure to $100,000 per sum, which would likely discourage some firms from sponsoring workers under the H-1B program, although critics of the bill argue companies already know how to game the attestation process.
Meanwhile, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D, Cal.) has introduced far more comprehensive legislation designed to give priority to companies that pay higher wages. The bill also sets aside a percentage of the annually allocated visas to smaller companies, raises the salary threshold discussed earlier to $132,000, and removes the cap that limits the number of allocations from a specific country, among other things.
A third bipartisan bill sponsored by Senators Chuck Grassley (R, Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D, Ill.) would eliminate the lottery system currently employed and create a system intended to give priority to foreign students educated in the United States, those with post-baccalaureate degrees, those being paid higher salaries, and those with especially valued skills. Among its many other provisions, the bill also expands the Department of Labor’s investigative powers.
One feature in common with all three bills is that they are likely to discourage some companies from sponsoring foreign workers under the H-1B program. Once the president weighs in on the issue we will have a better idea of what to expect, since Congress may well not act on the proposed bills beforehand.
John B. Buda, Esq.
1201 W. Huntington Dr. Suite 209
Arcadia, CA 91007