What Could Trump's Executive Order Mean for H-1B Visas?
Contributor: Van T. Doan
In April, President Donald Trump signed an executive order with the stated intention of promoting a "Hire American" policy. The order directs federal agencies, including the Departments of State, Labor, Homeland Security, and Justice to review employment immigration laws. While the order itself does not change any existing work visa programs, it charges the agencies with reviewing the laws about such programs and to recommend changes to them.
One affected program is that for H-1B temporary visas. The stated purpose of the order with regard to H-1B visas is to see that they are awarded to the most highly skilled immigrant workers, rather than awarded randomly by a lottery system, as they are currently.
What is an H-1B Temporary Work Visa?
Through the H-1B visa program, the United States grants 65,000 work visas each year to foreign nationals, and an additional 20,000 to foreign nationals who hold advanced degrees. Nonprofit organizations such as teaching hospitals and universities have access to an uncapped number of H-1B visas.
The aim of the program is to bring highly skilled workers to the United States, so it's not surprising that the majority of H-1B visas are granted to technology companies. However, other, so-called "specialty" industries also bring workers into the country via the H-1B temporary work visa; it's worth noting that the First Lady herself held an H-1B visa while working as a model in this country.
Statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor indicate that about 40 percent of H-1B visas are awarded to entry-level workers; an additional 40 percent are awarded to individuals with limited skills and experience. It is the position of the Trump administration that jobs held by these individuals should instead be filled by American citizens.
How the H-1B Visa Program Works
Applications for H-1B visas must be sponsored by employers. On April 1 of each year, the federal government starts accepting applications for the new fiscal year, which begins six months later, on October 1. The government often receives such a flood of applications that it stops accepting them within several days of the application period opening. Because there are so many more applicants for these visas than there are visas available, they are awarded by lottery.
Where do all of these workers come from? The vast majority, about 70 percent, are from India. Over 10 percent come from China, and the remainder from other countries. Technology companies in the U.S. recruit workers from other countries, citing a lack of qualified American applicants for programming and scientific jobs.
Companies using the H-1B visa program need to affirm that they attempted first to find American workers to fill the jobs they are now trying to give to foreigners.
What Changes Are Ahead for Workers?
It's unclear at this time exactly what changes will be made to the H-1B visa program. President Obama expanded the program in 2015, allowing spouses of existing H-1B visa holders to work in the United States as well. However, the Trump administration has suggested it is reviewing that policy, and it could be changed.
The Trump administration has also stated that it is considering changes that would direct a greater proportion of visas into the hands of foreign applicants with advanced degrees. Such measures might include raising the wage levels that would be eligible for visas and increasing fees for H-1B visas. There is support in Congress for the idea of allocating visas to companies willing to pay higher salaries. Ultimately, this would mean that less-skilled workers might have a more difficult time obtaining H-1B visas.
If you are concerned about your work visa or the prospect of a loved one obtaining a work visa, contact an experienced Maryland immigration attorney.
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Categories: Immigration Law