The Trump administration says the US will make further restrictions to its H-1B visa programme in an attempt to make it more expensive for American companies to hire workers from overseas.
While not releasing the full details of the new regulations, the Department of Labor and Department of Homeland Security said they would ask companies to pay higher salaries to workers using the visas in order to prevent them from undercutting American workers, and would narrow the list of occupations the visa could be used for.
“These changes will strengthen our foreign worker programmes and secure American workers’ opportunities for stable, good-paying jobs,” said US labour secretary Eugene Scalia.
Chad Wolf, the acting homeland security secretary, said the world had entered an era where “economic security is homeland security”.
Silicon Valley depends heavily on H-1B visas to hire engineers, scientists and coders from overseas, but the visa is widely used by specialist industries including accountancy firms and healthcare companies. There is a cap of 85,000 visas awarded each year.
The move is just the latest in the Trump administration’s broad crackdown on legal immigration, which it has argued is necessary to help American citizens find jobs amid the soaring unemployment caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
In June Mr Trump issued an executive order halting the issuance of H-1B visas used by technology companies and the H4 visas that allow the spouses of those visa holders to live, and sometimes work, in the US.
Mr Trump extended an earlier ban on green card applications until the end of the year and suspended a range of “guest worker” visas that allow everyone from scientists and engineers to au pairs to work in the US.
Almost all of Mr Trump’s attempts to limit or restrict immigration have attracted criticism from businesses and lobbyists who argue such restrictions make the US economy less competitive and stifle innovation.
Google chief executive Sundar Pichai and Cisco Systems chief executive Chuck Robbins were among those to criticise the US administration’s efforts to scale back on immigration earlier this year.
The administration was also successfully challenged in court by leading US universities after it attempted to prevent foreign students whose university classes had moved fully online from entering the US.