USC joins other institutions in a federal lawsuit challenging proposed changes to the H-1B program

The new rules would make it more difficult for H-1B visa holders to retain eligibility for critical jobs they already perform, USC said.

USC is joining 12 institutions in a federal lawsuit challenging the recent changes to the H-1B visa program, which would restrict career opportunities for H-1B visa holders, according to a university-wide email sent on Oct. 19.

“Two recently proposed rules, which were issued without opportunity for public comment, would restrict career opportunities for H-1B visa holders, and make it more difficult for them to retain eligibility for critical jobs they already perform,” President Carol Folt wrote in the email. USC, together with other institutions like Cornell University and the University of Rochester, is asking for prompt judicial actions and injunctions on the government’s new changes to the H-1B program.

On Oct. 8, the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Labor announced two new “interim final rules” restricting H-1B work visas issued to high-skilled foreign workers. The new guidelines, which were set to take effect on Oct. 8 and Dec. 7, respectively, would bring changes to the current H-1B program on many levels - from eligibility and wage level to validity period and compliance requirements.

DHS said that their new rule would “protect jobs of U.S. workers as a part of responding to the national emergency, and facilitate the Nation’s economic recovery.” However, the federal lawsuit filed on Oct. 19 and joined by a dozen institutions claimed that these two new rules “constitute a coordinated assault on the H-1B visa category,” and that the administration did not open the new rules to the public for comment, thus depriving the stakeholders the right to participate in the discussion of the regulatory reforms.

Based on the current definition, an H-1B visa holder should be a noncitizen who temporarily works in the United States in a “specialty occupation.” DHS’s new rule redefines “specialty occupation” and restricts individuals who qualify for the category, according to the lawsuit.

The rule also restricts the maximum validity of H-1B workers at third-party job sites for only one year, as compared to three for those not working at third-party job sites. The rule imposed more compliance requirements regarding third-party contracts and work itineraries, which substantially restricts the ability of H-1B workers to fill these roles, according to the lawsuit documents.

The other guideline, issued by DOL, would raise the H-1B workers' minimum wages “to artificially high levels—wages that vastly exceed what comparable domestic workers are paid,” the document stated.

The lawsuit also pointed out that the new rules apply not only to the future H-1B applicants but also to current employees seeking to renew their H-1B visa status. “These Rules will render hundreds of thousands of H-1B workers—individuals who are currently living and working in the United States—ineligible to renew their visas,” the lawsuit document read.

The DOL rule would also negatively impact many employment-based immigrants seeking to live and work permanently in the United States, the lawsuits stated. For the H-1B visa holders currently waiting for their green cards in the United States, their employers have been relying on the long-standing rules of the H-1B program to make operational decisions.

“If left unchecked, [the rules] would sever the employment relationship of hundreds of thousands of existing employees in the United States, and they would virtually foreclose the hiring of new individuals via the H-1B program,” according to the lawsuit.

“Our country benefits immensely from the work of uniquely talented and innovative people who come from around the world,” Folt wrote in the email to students. “At USC, H-1B visa holders use their highly specialized expertise and knowledge to advance work that fuels innovation, serves the public good, and saves lives.”