The Trump administration on Tuesday announced major rule changes to the controversial H-1B guest worker program – changes the government said will protect American wages, combat abuse and affect more than a third of the tens of thousands of applications filed each year.
“With millions of Americans looking for work and with the economy continuing to recover, immediate action is needed to counter the risk that lower costs may pose foreign labor to the welfare of US workers,” said Deputy Secretary of Labor Patrick Pizzella in a call with reporters.
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The H-1B highly skilled worker visa has been followed by allegations of abuse and fraud for years. Critics say it was used by technology companies in particular to replace middle-class American workers with cheaper foreign workers and to keep wages generally low. Proponents of the program say it is used to attract talent, to fill in gaps that the domestic job market cannot fill.
The Ministry of Labor’s provisional final ruling will change the methodology of setting the “applicable wage”. Dominant wage is what the DOL calculates as the average wage of similarly employed workers in a given occupation – and employers must pay H-1B workers to ensure US workers are not undercut.
“This rule, which the department is releasing this week, is by far one of the most significant reforms made to the H-1B program in the last 20 years,” said Pizzella, stressing that the rule would continue to allow employers to do so Use program to fill in gaps. while US workers give a “fair shake”.
In the meantime, a Ministry of Homeland Security rule will limit the definition of “specialty”, allow the Ministry of Homeland Security to increase compliance inspections before and after an H-1B petition, and the petitioner’s employer oblige to file the application directly – an attempt to prevent companies from accepting H-1B immigrants and then subcontracting them to other companies.
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As an example of the move to “specialty”, officials said that a language that currently defines a specialty as a profession that might normally require a degree will be changed to require a degree.
“The H-1B program has been abused by some companies trying to undermine American workers by bringing inexpensive or poorly paid foreign workers into our country,” Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli told reporters on a phone call. “The DHS rule affects more than a third of H-1B petitions. I can’t exaggerate how big the business is.”
Typically, companies can hire up to 85,000 workers per year under the program, and applicants are predominantly from India and China.
The rule comes into force 60 days after its publication in the federal register. President Trump published a presidential proclamation in June banning new H-1B petitions. This rule would apply before it ended.
However, that proclamation suffered legal defeat last week.
Business groups that opposed Trump’s proclamation in June were concerned about the new rules announced on Tuesday.
“We are still considering these proposals, but both rules can seriously harm many American companies,” Jon Baselice, executive director of immigration policy at the US Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, those calling for lower levels of immigration overall responded with glee to the announcement and welcomed it as a significant win for American workers.
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Dan Stein, President of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), welcomed the move, saying it would “ensure that US companies use H-1B workers to increase our domestic workforce, not replace them”.
“While the current unemployment crisis has triggered these regulatory reforms for the H-1B program, we expect these changes to be long-lasting,” he said. “Once this protection is firmly established for American workers, it will be very difficult for any future administration to restore employers ‘ability to refuse jobs and undermine US workers’ wages.”