November 30, 2020

Trump administration announces new restrictions on employment-based visa program

The Trump administration is tightening up an employment-based visa program that allows highly skilled foreign workers to come to the United States, arguing the changes are necessary following shocks to the labor market caused by the coronavirus pandemic.



a sign in front of a building: A flag flies outside the U.S. Department building in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020.


© Erin Scott/Bloomberg/Getty Images
A flag flies outside the U.S. Department building in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020.

The Department of Labor and Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday that they will release regulations targeting H-1B visas intended for highly skilled workers — an employment-based visa used in part by large tech companies to bring in workers. It’s the second time this year that such visas have taken a hit. Over the summer, President Donald Trump signed a proclamation placing limits on H-1B visas, among others, through the end of the year.

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The latest actions by the administration are part of a concerted effort to roll back the visas available to people overseas as a result of high unemployment in the US resulting from the pandemic. They’re also in line with the administration’s attempts to curb legal immigration to the country.

“We have entered an era in which economic security is an integral part of homeland security. Put simply, economic security is homeland security. In response, we must do everything we can within the bounds of the law to make sure the American worker is put first,” acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said in a statement.

Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia echoed Wolf in a separate statement, saying that his department is “strengthening wage protections, addressing abuses in these visa programs, and ensuring American workers are not undercut by cheaper foreign labor.”

The new rules will take effect in short order.

The changes include narrowing the definition of “specialty occupation,” enhancing DHS’ “ability to enforce compliance through worksite inspections,” and reforming the wage methodology that officials argued previously put American workers at a disadvantage.

Tech companies are among those that use the H-1B program to bring in thousands of skilled foreign workers. Executives of those companies have denounced the Trump administration’s efforts to curb visas, underscoring the contributions of immigrants.

Sarah Pierce, policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, noted that reforms to the visa program are necessary, but severe curtailing of the program can have wide-ranging effects.

“There are legitimate concerns about the use of this visa to replace US workers, but in trying to address that issue, this administration is really hurting all companies that depend on H-1B workers. Not only those who employ the H-1B workers but also those that benefit from that labor,” Pierce said.

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