Where Are American Counterparts to the H-1B Visa Program Applicants?

A program, which has been bringing tens of thousands of skilled young Asians to the U.S. to fill technical jobs left empty by Americans opened today. It has been criticized earlier by the President for taking jobs from Americans. Some changes have been made. It remains to be seen how legitimate are the claims of those who defend it.

Two articles from The New York Times below attempt to cover this event:

By JIM KERSTETTER, April 4, 2017 for The New York Times

While campaigning for president last year, Donald J. Trump promised changes to the H-1B visa program that brings skilled foreign workers to the United States. A critique of the program is that it can be used to replace American workers with cheaper foreign labor. Critics say that Indian outsourcing firms, in particular, use it as a shortcut to make low bids on contracts. . . .

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services announced on Friday that entry-level computer programming jobs would no longer automatically qualify as a “special occupation,” which is the basic requirement for receiving an H-1B work visa. And on Monday, the Justice Department warned that it would look closely at any employer that showed a preference for hiring H-1B workers instead of Americans.

Visa Applications Pour In by Truckload

 By MIRIAM JORDAN, April 3, 2017 for The New YorkTimes

Hailed by proponents as vital to American innovation, the program has also been criticized as a scheme to displace United States workers with cheaper foreign labor. President Trump has vowed to overhaul it, and lawmakers from both parties have drafted bills to alter it.

At campaign rallies, Mr. Trump introduced laid-off Americans who had been asked to train their foreign successors at companies that included Disney.

This past weekend, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services announced a technical change that could make it harder for entry-level programmers to receive the visas, and on Monday, the Justice Department warned that it would investigate companies that it believed had overlooked qualified American workers.

   

The average H-1B petition, a collection of forms and documents attesting to the bona fides of a job offer and the person chosen to fill it, is about two inches thick. But some files are six inches thick and weigh several pounds,

The companies, which subcontract their employees to banks, retailers and other businesses in the United States to do programming, accounting and other work, often inundate the immigration service with tens of thousands of applications.

04VISAS2-master768Shipments of H-1B visa petitions arrived Monday at a government processing center in Laguna Niguel, Calif. The visas are commonly used to bring technology workers to the United States. Credit Eros Hoagland for The New York Times

BitTitan, a growing company that hopes to hire 60 engineers in the next 12 months, is submitting six applications. “We are trying to fill specific positions around cloud and artificial intelligence,” the chief executive, Geeman Yip, said. “If we can’t fill them, our innovation suffers.”

Several bipartisan bills in the Senate and the House seek to make companies give more priority to American workers before they fill jobs with H-1B visas. They also seek to raise the minimum pay for the jobs, which depend on skill level and location: A computer systems analyst in Pittsburgh, for example, must make at least $49,000 under current regulations. The theory is that higher pay will eliminate some of the rationale for importing workers.

A draft of a presidential executive order on “protecting American jobs and workers by strengthening the integrity of foreign worker visa programs” was distributed widely in late January but never signed. Then, without warning, Citizenship and Immigration Services published a memo on its website over the weekend that could affect many applications.

Specifically, companies seeking to import computer programmers at the lowest pay levels will have to prove that the work they perform qualifies as “specialty” labor, which is what the H-1B visas were created for. . . .

The measure appears to be directed mainly at outsourcing firms, rather than the big technology companies, which tend to hire workers at higher skill and pay levels.

In a statement, the National Association of Software and Services Companies, the main trade group for India’s outsourcing industry, said, “The H-1B visa system exists specifically because the U.S. has a persistent shortage of high-skilled I.T. talent.”

The Wall Street Journal covered the event in an article below:

U.S. Puts a Curb On Visa Program

 By LAURA MECKLER, April 3, 2017 for The Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON—The federal government on Monday began accepting visa applications for a fresh round of high-skilled foreign workers, without the wholesale changes President Donald Trump promised in his campaign. His administration did, though, announce one shift that could put pressure on outsourcing companies that typically win a large share of the coveted visas.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service said it would direct more inspectors in the H-1B program to the controversial outsourcing companies, many of them based in India. Those firms have drawn scrutiny because their U.S. subsidiaries sometimes import employees to do work once performed by Americans.

outsourcing--621x414-1

The companies say they are adhering to the program’s rules and only hire foreigners because they can’t find Americans for the jobs, but they are under substantial political scrutiny.

Last year, the government received more than 236,000 applications for the 85,000 visas, of which 20,000 are reserved for people with advanced degrees. . . .

During his presidential campaign, Mr. Trump promised to reduce legal as well as illegal immigration, saying foreign workers drive down wages and threaten American jobs. . . .

“These are temporary foreign workers, imported from abroad, for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay,” he said in a statement last March. “I remain totally committed to eliminating rampant, widespread H-1B abuse.”

. . . One bipartisan bill pending in the House, for instance, would punish companies seeking H-1B visas by imposing burdensome requirements if they don’t pay workers at least $100,000 a year. The current threshold to avoid those requirements is $60,000. . . .

Under the new rules, companies will be prioritized when they have a high ratio of H-1B workers employed and when the employees work off-site at another company’s location. Both of those criteria would lead to targeting of outsourcing companies. . . .

Also Monday, the Justice Department issued a statement cautioning employers participating in the program against discriminating against American workers. “U.S. workers should not be placed in a disfavored status, and the department is wholeheartedly committed to investigating and vigorously prosecuting these claims,” acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Civil Rights Division said in a statement.

 

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