President Trump may soon be signing a new executive order that would impact the H-1B visa program. Changes to this visa program could create additional hurdles for certain industries, such as tech and outsourcing, with respect to hiring skilled, foreign workers. The government plans a thorough review of this and other nonimmigration visas to curb any abuses within these programs, while focusing on preserving and protecting American jobs.
What Is an H-1B?
According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), an H-1B visa is a nonimmigrant visa allowing individuals to work in the United States for jobs normally requiring a bachelor's degree or higher in a related field of study. For example, engineers, scientists or mathematicians. The individual seeking the visa must have at least a bachelor's degree or equivalent in a field related to the position sought, and the position must pay $60,000 at the minimum, according to the Department of Labor.
Only 65,000 H-1B visas are available for issue each fiscal year. Jobs at higher education institutions, nonprofit research organizations and government research organizations are not subject to the issuance limit. H1-B workers may initially remain in the U.S. for up to three years, with possible extension in up to three-year increments. The maximum period of stay is six years with additional extensions in certain circumstances, according to the DHS.
H-1B Visa Executive Order
On Jan. 30, 2017, USA Today reported that, in a White House news briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer stated that the potential changes to the visa program are "part of a larger immigration effort" and evolve from "an overall need to look at all of these measures."
Bloomberg, which has reviewed a copy of the draft executive order, reported that, although the draft executive order doesn't include many specifics, it focuses on a thorough review and examination of the visa program to achieve its intent of protecting American workers' jobs. "Businesses would have to try to hire American first and if they recruit foreign workers, priority would be given to the most highly paid," Bloomberg notes.
High-Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act of 2017
On Jan. 31, 2017, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced the High-Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act of 2017, which seeks to address issues related to outsourcing firms. As reported by Bloomberg, Lofgren has stated that her legislation redirects the H-1B program to its original intent — to supplement the U.S. workforce with the best from around the world.
Lofgren's bill more than doubles the minimum salary for visa individuals, by increasing the salary requirement from $60,000 to $130,000. Additionally, her bill gives priority to businesses who pay above the minimum threshold of $130,000, thus promoting marketplace competition. Lofgren's bill also reserves 20 percent of H-1B visas issued for small and startup firms with less than 50 employees.
Impact of Visa Program Changes
Originally, the H-1B program was designed so that businesses could hire skilled foreign workers for jobs in the U.S. when local talent was not available. As such, this program was not meant to displace American workers. However, over the past several years, critics of the program have claimed that businesses are using the H-1B visa program to attract and retain cheaper workers, instead of more expensive American talent.
Tech firms, biotech firms and hospitals could be impacted by this executive order with respect to recruiting skilled talent. Outsourcing businesses, who staff certain departments for large organizations, will be primarily impacted, as outsourcing firms currently use the greatest number of H-1B employees in staffing.
The examination of the H-1B visa program is gaining speed, with changes to the program on the horizon. The expense associated with attracting talent may cause organizations to explore other staffing and service options, such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence and shared jobs. For certain industries, however, attracting and retaining top talent may become not only more cumbersome, but also more expensive.
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