The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced new restrictions to the H-1B non-immigrant visas on Oct. 6 to limit work visas issued to high-skilled foreign workers. According to CBS news, it’s part of the Trump administration’s goal to overhaul the guest worker program.
Several major changes have been made to the H-1B visas. First, the visa now requires employers to pay H-1B workers higher wages, a reason that can discourage companies to look for cheaper laborers from abroad. Then, it narrows the eligibility criteria for applicants, which can reduce the number of visa requests. Finally, these changes limit the validity of the visa to a maximum of one year for workers who are hired through a third-party consulting company.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the required salary level for entry-level workers would rise from the current 17th percentile of their profession’s wage to the 45th percentile. Salary for higher-skilled workers would rise from the 67th percentile to the 95th percentile.
“Currently, the H-1B visa permits employers some latitude in hiring international talent if they possess the prerequisite skills and competencies for a specific job, based on either attaining the appropriate educational degree or prior work experience,” said Mark Brostoff, assistant dean and director of Graduate Career Services at USC Marshall School of Business.
According to the new rule, foreign workers need to have a college degree in the “specialty occupation” they apply for, rather than any degree.
“The proposed new rules could restrict the number of qualified international applicants for H-1B visa by narrowing the job applicant pool to only those individuals with a specific degree without any consideration to the applicant’s skills or work experiences,” said Brostoff.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said the changes will protect U.S. workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic and that the current economic crisis is an “obvious and compelling fact that justifies good cause to issue the IFR [interim final rule].” But in fact, the Trump administration committed to reforming the H-1B program in 2017.
Acting Secretary Chad Wolf said, “The Department of Homeland Security is honored to take this important step toward putting Americans first and to continue to implement President Trump’s agenda to keep our economy secure.”
“For the companies that are working on big projects that they really need these people and they’re paying, it’s probably not going to impact them,” said Jonathan Aronson, a professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at USC Dornsife. He mentioned that the new restrictions are more likely to affect marginal companies or medium-sized startups.
“I guess I’m just feeling a bit disheartened right now with COVID and the Trump administration releasing more and more policies to kick international students out of this country,” said Emily Kuo, a junior at USC who came to the United States six years ago.
Kuo said it is the “American Dream” that gives her the courage to overcome cultural and language barriers and homesickness, but now she’s questioning whether all of her efforts are going to waste. “I wonder how my life would’ve been like if I had a green card or U.S. citizenship,” she said.
Students who have had work experiences or an internship now might think differently.
“It can be a genuine cause of concern for many international students,” said Arshine Kingsley, who is currently working in a company as an intern. “It would probably be advantageous to international students who have had previous job experiences.” He graduated from USC this year with a master’s degree in electrical engineering.
“I think people like me with little work experience should look to develop our skills and not worry about policy changes,” Kingsley added.
Professor Aronson said that only a third of people who submit the application can get the visas, so the process could be hard and competitive. But he also emphasized that students right now don’t need to worry too much about the changes.
“If you have a company that wants to keep you, they’ll figure out a way to do it,” Aronson said.