The Trump administration recently issued new, stricter guidelines for computer programmers looking to apply for an H-1B work visa, while also taking steps to combat abuse and and fraud in the program.
In a policy memorandum released Friday, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) stated that it is no longer appropriate for the USCIS to “generally consider the position of programmer to qualify as a specialty occupation.” For those who are unfamiliar, the H-1B work visa is supposed to be granted specifically to fill specialty occupations, often those that require certain skills or an advanced degree.
The recent memorandum’s core argument is that current policy doesn’t clearly distinguish an entry-level or similar position from one that is “more senior, complex, specialized, or unique.” Some entry-level programming jobs only require an associate’s degree, and one part of the current requirement for H-1B applicants is that they have, at minimum, a US bachelor’s degree in their specialty, or some equivalent, the memorandum noted.
The memorandum also states that, just because the individual is using information technology skills in his or her position doesn’t necessarily make their position a specialized one. As such, applicants will now need to provide additional information to prove that the position they are applying for meets the criteria of “specialty occupation,” as defined by USCIS standards. Applications for the program for fiscal year 2018 opened on April 3, 2017, and the changes are effective immediately.
In an additional memo from the USCIS on Monday, it was also announced that an email address would be established for concerned people to “submit tips, alleged violations and other relevant information about potential H-1B fraud or abuse.” The memo also said that the USCIS would be more targeted in its visits to certain worksites, focusing on three areas:
- “Cases where USCIS cannot validate the employer’s basic business information through commercially available data”
- “H-1B-dependent employers (those who have a high ratio of H-1B workers as compared to U.S. workers, as defined by statute)”
- “Employers petitioning for H-1B workers who work off-site at another company or organization’s location.”
The Monday memo also said that the USCIS would continue random site visits throughout the country as well.
Another memo from the US Department of Justice, also released Monday, cautioned employers looking for H-1B workers to “not discriminate against US workers.”
The silver lining for companies looking to use the H-1B is that Trump hasn’t made a move to shut down the program, despite previous promises that he would. In fact, he hasn’t even limited the cap on the number of visas that will be issued.
The H-1B visa is one of the most contentious visa programs in the American workforce. Opponents cite abuse of the visas, like the famous Disney fiasco, where foreign workers were used to lower wages or displace American workers. However, some other experts contend that H-1B workers are often paid more than their American co-workers and that the visa creates additional economic opportunities for them. And while the H-1B visa often gets the most press, there are other visas like the L1 and L2 visas that are also used to bring foreign-born workers to the US.
The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers
- A new memorandum from the USCIS has issued stricter qualifications for H-1B applicants to define their role as a specialized position, effective immediately.
- The USCIS also announced that it would be conducting more focused worksite visits to determine if the H-1B program was being abused, and that it set up an email address where people could report fraud.
- Despite promises to end the program, Trump hasn’t lowered the cap on the H-1B visas applications, which is good news for tech companies that want to use it.