The Trump administration on Tuesday announced new rules that will significantly raise wages paid to foreign workers on H-1B and narrow the eligibility criteria to qualify for these high-skilled visas. Both measures are aimed at preventing this programme from being used to displace Americans.
The White House said in a statement that President Donald Trump wanted to improve work visa programmes to “prioritise the highest-skilled workers and protect American jobs and wages” and intended H-1B visas to “be reserved for specialised talent that helps support a strong economy”. Indian professionals are the largest recipients of H-1B visas, accounting for more than 70% of the 85,000 issued every year.
“These regulations seem to be based on misinformation about the programme and runs counterproductive to their very objective of saving the American economy and jobs,” said Nasscom, a trade body of India IT businesses.
The changes will be introduced as “interim final rules” and will go into effect separately, issued by separate federal agencies. The rule on higher wages goes into effect from Thursday. It will be aimed at “strengthening wage protections, addressing abuses in these visa programs, and ensuring American workers are not undercut by cheaper foreign labour”, said secretary of Labor, Eugene Scalia. US employers hiring foreign workers on H-1B and other work visas will be required to pay foreign workers prevailing wages or the actual wage paid to other employees with similar experience and qualifications.
“The prevailing wage rates in these programs thus play an integral role in protecting US workers from unfair competition posed by the entry of lower cost foreign labour into the US labour market,” said the department. Critics have long argued it has been used to displace American workers.
The Department of Homeland Security’s IFR changing the definition of “speciality occupation” is expected to become effective in 60 days. The department said its interim rule will narrow the definition of specialty occupation by “closing the overbroad definition that allowed companies to game the system”.
A basic college degree will not be sufficient any longer to quality for an H1-B. An applicant for a job in electrical engineering, for instance, will be required to have a degree in electrical engineering, not computers. “We have entered an era in which economic security is an integral part of homeland security. We must do everything… to make sure the American worker is put first,” said DHS acting secretary Chad Wolf.
The new rule is expected to cut the number of H-1B petitions filed every year — around 200,000 — by a third, according to a senior DHS official. The department will also monitor closely third-party employers, who hire H-1B workers and contract them out to work for US companies. The rules are expected to be challenged in courts.