The U.S. administration began to deliver on President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to crack down on a work visa program that channels thousands of skilled overseas workers to companies across the technology industry.
Fed up with a program it says favors foreign workers at the expense of Americans, the Trump administration rolled out a trio of policy shifts. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency on Friday made it harder for companies to bring overseas tech workers to the U.S. using the H-1B work visa. On Monday, the agency issued a memo laying out new measures to combat what it called "fraud and abuse" in the program. The Justice Department also warned employers applying for the visas not to discriminate against U.S. workers.
It's baby steps, but considering that the previous 4 administrations have been aggressive in undermining wages of tech workers with the H1B and L1A visas, it is very much a step in the right direction.
This week’s moves weren’t the administration’s first attempts to adjust the program. Last month, the immigration department suspended a system that expedited visa processing for certain skilled workers who paid extra. But people who have been pushing for reform had become frustrated in recent weeks that the Trump administration wasn’t moving fast enough.
Outsourcing firms are considered the worst abusers of the system, an impression that the tech industry has been happy to encourage. Monday’s USCIS announcement targets those firms, with the agency saying it will focus inspections on workplaces with the largest percentage of H-1B workers, and those with employees who do IT work for other companies. Shares of Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp., Infosys Ltd., Wipro Ltd. and Accenture Plc each slipped more than 1 percent on Monday.
The new guidelines released Friday require additional information for computer programmers applying for H-1B visas to prove the jobs are complicated and require more advanced knowledge and experience. It’s effective immediately, so it will change how companies apply for the visas in an annual lottery process that begins Monday. The changes don’t explicitly prohibit applications for a specific type of job. Instead, they bring more scrutiny to those for computer programmers doing the simplest jobs.
"This is a step in the right direction in terms of tightening up the eligibility," said Ron Hira, an associate professor at Howard University, who has done extensive research on the H-1B program. "You’re going to have to beef up your argument for why you need this person."