December 2, 2020

Trump administration issues major rule change

The administration of President Donald Trump on Tuesday moved to impose major new limits on use of the controversial H-1B visa, intended for jobs requiring specialized skills and widely used by Silicon Valley technology firms.

Department of Homeland Security acting deputy secretary Ken Cuccinelli said a third of applicants would be denied under the new rules.

The changes involve new rules from both Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Labor.

Homeland Security said its rule, effective 60 days after it’s published in the federal register, would “combat the use of H-1B workers to serve as a low-cost replacement for otherwise qualified American workers.”

Among the agency’s changes are narrowing the definition of “specialty occupations” qualified for the visa, and forcing companies to “make ‘real’ offers to ‘real employees,’ by closing loopholes and preventing the displacement of the American worker,” the agency said in a news release.

The administration, which has long promised to change the H-1B program, is pushing the rules ahead without the typical public-comment period, the agency said.

The H-1B program has become a flashpoint in America’s immigration debate. Major tech firms employ foreign workers directly through the program, and also via staffing companies and outsourcers. The tech industry pushes to expand the annual 85,000 cap on new visas, while critics point to reported abuses and argue that the visa is used to supplant U.S. workers, drive down wages and facilitate outsourcing.

Current rules allow foreign workers to be paid less than the prevailing wage. Research by Daniel Costa, of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, and Howard University political science professor Ron Hira, found that 60% of H-1B workers receive lower-than-average wages for their job and region, and that major tech companies pay some H-1B workers less than local median wages.

The Trump administration has targeted use of the visa by staffing and outsourcing firms, dramatically increasing denials.

Immigration law firm Berry Appleman & Leiden said in a bulletin Tuesday afternoon that it expected Homeland Security and the Labor Department to publish the new rules in the federal register in “coming days.”

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