Trump Administration Considers Major Changes to H-1B Visa Extension
Sources have revealed that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is looking at making changes in regulations that would result in preventing the extension of H-1B visas, even while the visa holder is waiting to get his/her green card processed. President Donald Trump had promised to launch a “Buy American, Hire American” initiative during his 2016 campaign. The proposed regulatory change, currently being drafted in the form of memos exchanged between DHS heads, is said to be a part of this initiative.
Specifically, the DHS is weighing the possibility of reinterpreting the language of the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act, which says “may grant,” such that visa extensions can be stopped. Currently, H-1B visa extensions are granted to thousands of foreign immigrant workers outside of the two three-year terms if they have a green card application pending. These workers are predominantly Indian.
According to a U.S. source briefed by DHS officials, “The idea is to create a sort of ‘self- deportation’ of hundreds of thousands of Indian tech workers in the United States to open up those jobs for Americans.” Officers at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), governed by the DHS, have declined to comment on the issue, stating that the process is underway, and a decision has not yet been made. However, Jonathan Withington, chief of media relations for USCIS, stated, “The agency is considering a number of policy and regulatory changes to carry out the President’s Buy American, Hire American Executive Order, including a thorough review of employment-based visa programs.”
In addition to this proposal to stop the extension of H-1B visas, the Trump administration also plans to make spouses of H-1B visa holders ineligible to work in America. Simultaneously, a bipartisan group of lawmakers are tweaking the rules to make it more difficult for foreign workers to get H-1B visas. In the future, the administration will also consider giving priority to very highly educated and skilled workers when granting H-1B visas.
A closer look at H-1B visas
Some of the companies who employ H-1B visa holders are those that have been given state grants to the tune of millions of dollars in order to create jobs in places like Charlotte.
Although the H-1B visa issue does not receive as much attention as other immigration-related issues like building a wall along the southern border of the country, it is important for American companies. Large organizations, such as Facebook, Caterpillar, and the Bank of America have always stated that the annual cap of 85,000 visas is too low to fulfil technical manpower needs because America does not have sufficient numbers of suitably qualified high-skilled workers.
In early 2017, President Trump announced an executive order that requires a review of the H-1B visa program to make changes that will result in granting of the visas to only the highest-paid and most skilled applicants. He said, “This historic action declares that the policy of our government is to aggressively promote and use American-made goods and to ensure that American labor is hired to do the job. It’s America first, you better believe it.”
John Miano is a lawyer who acts for American workers claiming to have lost their jobs unfairly to low-skilled H-1B visa holders. He feels that the H-1B program should be discontinued and believes that not much can be done to fix the program. He wants the number of years to be limited, possibly pulled back to three. However, he expects that such a change would need to be approved by Congress. Miano states, “You can throw a dart at a random provision in H-1B and delete and probably improve the problem.”
By and large, the H-1B visa is given to foreign workers for three to six years. Nonetheless, a worker who has begun his/her green card process can get his/her H-1B visa renewed indefinitely. Pew Research Center reveals that if the Trump administration brings to effect the proposed regulatory changes, Indian visa holders would be most affected because they make up more than 50 percent of all H-1B visa holders.
If the proposed changes are brought about without Congressional approval, lawsuits can be expected to be filed by lawyers representing the foreign workers and the companies which employ them.
Leon Fresco, former deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department in the Obama administration, states, “This would be a major catastrophic development as many people have been waiting in line for green cards for over a decade, have U.S. citizen children, own a home.” Leon believes that over 1 million H-1B visa holders in America have pending green card applications and many of these people are Indian and have been waiting to get a green card for more than a decade.