US President Donald Trump’s administration announced plans on Tuesday to sharply limit visas issued to skilled workers from overseas, a move officials said was a priority amid job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Department of Homeland Security and Department of Labor officials said new rules on who can obtain the visas and how much they should be paid would be released soon to restrict the use of what is known as the H-1B programme.
Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said DHS estimates that about one-third of applicants would be denied under the new rules, which include limits on the number of speciality occupations open to H-1B holders.
In June, Trump issued an order temporarily suspending the H-1B programme until the end of the year.
These broader limits reflect his administration’s pledges to curb both legal and illegal immigration under Trump’s watch, an issue important to his Republican base, even though it figures less prominently in his 2020 campaign than it did in his 2016 run.
A new requirement that employers pay higher prevailing wages to foreign workers will take effect in the coming days, reflecting the need to help the job market recover from the coronavirus shutdown, said Deputy Secretary of Labor Patrick Pizzella.
“With millions of Americans looking for work, as the economy continues its recovery, immediate action is needed to guard against the risk lower-cost foreign labour can pose to the wellbeing of US workers,” Pizzella said.
The H-1B program was created under President George H W Bush to help companies fill specialised jobs as the tech sector began to boom and it was harder to find qualified workers. Many companies insist they still need the programme to fill critical positions.
Cuccinelli and Pizzella said the programme has been abused to allow companies to displace American workers with less expensive employees from overseas.
“US workers are being ousted from good-paying, middle-class jobs and replaced with non-US workers,” Pizzella said. “It has also caused US wages in some instances to stagnate. That is wrong.”
Among the new rules are significant limits on “offsite” firms that bring in large numbers of H-1B visa holders and then provide those workers under contract to other companies for a fee, a loophole that has been the subject of fraud and other abuse.
There would also be increased workplace inspections and additional oversight of the H-1B programme, Cuccinelli said.
The US can issue up to 85,000 H-1B visas per year for jobs such as computer programmers, accountants, architects and database administrators. They are typically issued for an initial period of three years and can be renewed. People from India and China make up the majority of the estimated 500,000 H-1B visa holders in the US.
Officials said the Department of Labor rules would take effect immediately after publication in the federal register later this week, while those that fall under the Department of Homeland Security would be adopted after a public comment period.