The Government of the United States has recently made several reforms to its immigration laws. Some of these changes are in relation to national security and have resulted in tighter border controls. Officials and key decision makers are expressing concern about foreign workers and migrants taking up jobs or assignments across the country instead of American citizens. They have therefore implemented certain measures to restrict the issue of work visas and permits to those who do not come from the US.This situation is not exclusive to the US; it has been mirrored in nations such as Australia and Singapore, thereby causing some friction between immigration policies and domestic business interests. The steps to restrict work visas are likely to have a significant impact on companies that rely on international workers to meet their technical and scientific skill requirements.
One of the top priorities of the new administration in the US is to revise the H1B work visa for specialty occupations. This is bound to have an adverse impact on American and international companies that are required to hire people from overseas. Every year, more than 85,000 H1B visas are granted to a pool of more than 200,000 applicants, by means of a lottery system. So far, this procedure has primarily favored large Indian outsourcing organizations in the field of Information Technology (IT) that send contractual workers to the US.
Some people believe this system has been abused, primarily because there are numerous documented examples of American companies replacing their local workers with cheaper foreign talent. To make matters worse, the employees being laid off are forced to train their replacements before leaving. However, there is an ongoing debate about the system and whether it has its uses or not.
Following a pledge to revise the H1B program during the presidential elections, several changes have already taken place on an administrative level. Many congress members are on board with the changes, meaning various aspects of the legislation are under consideration. The existing program may undergo a complete overhaul. Those foreigners who are currently employed under the H1B scheme may also undergo an increased amount of scrutiny when they are looking for transfers or are trying to extend their visas beyond the first three years.
In the present scenario, firms based in Silicon Valley seem to be under the most threat, as they hire the maximum number of foreign employees because of their technical skills. Since tighter controls have been implemented on work visas, these companies are looking to set up their satellite offices in the nearby countries, like Canada, to bring in the staff they need. Many are also interested in transferring their existing expat employees to avoid any problems in the future.
Actions Taken To Revise H1B Visas
Since there is no new law around the H1B program as yet, all the reforms have to take place at an administrative level. Some of the actions that have already taken place are listed below:
Issue Of Executive Order: Buy American, Hire American
In April 2017, the president of the United States issued instructions to the agencies in charge of the H1B system through an executive order. These agencies have been directed to eliminate abuses of the system, reduce the number of IT contractual workers granted visas, and ensure that the highest wage positions are prioritized.
All the details, definitions, policies and prerequisites of this executive order are available on the webpage of The White House, Office of the Press Secretary. For more information, click here.
Exclusion Of Entry Level Computer Programmers From The Scheme
Under the previously followed system, almost 20 percent of H1B visa recipients were entry level computer programmers. According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), this group of professionals will be completely excluded from the program from now on. The authorities have clarified that the main objective of the H1B Visa program is to bring highly skilled workforce into the US as “specialty occupation” if there is a shortage of those technical skills locally. Entry level computer programmers therefore no longer generally qualify as a position under specialty occupation.
Increase In Vetting Of Positions
Getting a work visa for any country has never been an easy process and this includes the US. However, with the proposed reforms to the system, increased scrutiny has been placed on the work permit program as well as the commercial establishments that utilize it. A new level of verification is required for all H1B applicants. This includes providing all social media handles, travel history and contact information for the last five years.
The Department of Homeland Security as well as its immigration processing division issued a memo in which a more rigorous vetting program procedure for computer programmers has been established. The USCIS has also announced that it will conduct a higher number of site visits to identify any instances of H1B visa fraud. The Justice Department has also warned employers seeking visas to avoid discriminating against US citizens.
For more information, click here.
Curbing Of Spousal Visas
In the past, it was common practice for H1B visa holders to have their spouses accompany them and live in the US as their dependents, on the H4 Visa. This visa was especially important for couples planning to acquire green cards. However, the revised program has come as a major blow to families across the globe who wish to accompany the primary visa holder to the US, as spouses of H1B visa holder may no longer be allowed to remain in country.
It is expected that the actions listed above are just the tip of the iceberg and that many additional reforms are also likely to take place.
A majority of the bills that have been recently put forth in congress are focused on several primary reforms that will eliminate what the Americans consider “cheap foreign labor”. Here are a few more steps that may be implemented with the new H1B laws.
Raising Minimum Pay Scales
One of the main reasons why several companies choose to replace their local staff with international workers is to save a few bucks. These workers are often willing to do the same job for less money, as long as their employers sponsor their paperwork. Sometimes workers in these positions are paid only 50 to 60 percent of what their American counterparts expect. Officials have therefore proposed several bills aimed at increasing H1B salaries to a minimum of US $100,000 per annum. This will eliminate the more junior contractual workers who can now be hired for US $60,000 from the program.
If an organization hires a migrant worker for a lower rate than that which has been proposed, they will have to prove that they could not find an American employee for the same position.
New Qualifications Standards Based On Skills
In today’s economy, most IT companies in the US prefer to hire workers that have a fairly high level of college education and experience. If this requirement cannot be met locally, they look at professionals with the relevant skills and education from other countries. However, many organizations end up hiring migrant workers with degrees or diplomas, but who have no more than a year or two of relevant work experience.
Under the new procedure, visas will only be granted to migrant workers who have a minimum of three years’ work experience. Moreover, agencies are likely to ensure that professionals with a masters’ degree or higher are given priority. Workers without relevant work experience of at least three years will not be eligible for the H1B visa.
Visa Standards Based On Merit
Several proposals have been put forth around running a merit based immigration system for H1B visas. The basic principle of this program is that anyone seeking to enter the US should be able to support themselves financially while also contributing to the nation’s growth and economy.
In the current scenario, this idea is not reinforced and many migrant workers are given permission to live in the country based on their family ties. Only about 20 percent are admitted on the basis of employability. A small number also gain entry through asylum and refugee programs. The authorities believe that the country’s public resources are therefore strained. If approved, the new move would put priority on skills and employability above family ties.
Countries such as Canada have already implemented a merit based system, where potential migrants are awarded points, based on their age, education, work experience, language proficiency and other considerations. Those who score the highest number of points are given priority for admission.
With the elimination of the lottery system, agencies will also give preference to those international students who are enrolled in American colleges and universities. This also applies to individuals with advanced degrees or rare skills.
However, there is as yet no clarity on how the US Government plans to carry out these changes to the existing system. For more information, click here.
Placing Limits On The Participation Of Outsourcing Companies
Many IT firms, especially those in Silicon Valley, rely heavily on international talent to meet their skill requirements. A significant percentage of the workforce in such companies consists of migrants, who have the H1B visas.
Under the revised scheme, the participation of such companies in the scheme is likely to be restricted. If an organization’s workforce is made up of more than 50 percent migrant workers with H1B, the firm may be excluded from using the program completely. However, this move is likely to apply only to companies with more than 50 employees.
One of the bills eliminates limits based on an applicant’s country of origin. It also suggests that visas will awarded to those employers that pay the highest salaries to their workers.
Needless to say, there is a lot of talk and worry about what the final outcome of these changes may be. Of course, there is a slim chance that all these proposed reforms will get implemented. however, obtaining the H1B visa in the future will definitely be more difficult. It is therefore best for professionals to look at alternate destinations that offer good career prospects.
Similarly, American establishments that rely on international talent will probably be forced to look at other options. While the US Government aims to increase the employment of local talent, not all skills can be found within the country. In such cases, companies can either set up satellite offices in neighboring countries, or increase the use of remote workers from other locations. Unfortunately, both the alternatives will result in a huge loss of jobs as well as revenue for the country.
On one hand, several politicians and citizens are in favor of the reforms to the H1B visas, as they believe that it will provide more jobs to Americans. On the other hand, many believe that such moves will further hamper the economy, as companies will move out of the US and into other locations, because they cannot meet their talent requirements locally.
At the moment, these views are nothing but speculation, and only time will tell if the changes to the immigration system and H1B visas will have a positive impact on the US economy or not. Some other nations have made similar changes to their immigration laws and have continued to see the inflow of highly skilled and experienced professionals who have contributed to industrial and economic growth. It is therefore best to wait and watch the situation before drawing conclusions.
Applying for a work permit to the US has never been easy, but the new reforms have made things more complicated. It is therefore best to speak with a licensed, expert visa agent to guide you through the entire procedure.