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H-1B visa rules: Donald Trump administration eyes more changes

Under the new H-1B visa rule, which could go into effect in February, US firms will be required to first electronically register for visas that are subject to an annual cap of 85,000.

world Updated: Dec 26, 2017 16:21 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Washington
H-1B visa programme,Donald Trump,USCIS
US President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order directing federal agencies to recommend changes to H1-B visa program in Wisconsin in April. (File photo)

The Trump administration plans to revive a rule proposed in 2011 to introduce pre-registration for employers planning to hire foreigners under the H-1B visa programme, and change the definition of the high speciality occupation it applied to.

Under the new rule, which could go into effect in February, US firms will be required to first electronically register for visas that are subject to an annual cap of 85,000 — 65,000 for foreigners coming in from abroad and 20,000 for foreigners with advanced degrees from US colleges and universities.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which runs the H-1B visa programme, will randomly select — possibly through an electronic lottery — beneficiary employers from among those registered.

It wasn’t immediately clear if this could make it easier or difficult for US employers — which also include American subsidiaries of Indian IT giants Infosys, TCS and Wipro — to hire H-1B workers.

An estimated 70% of H-1B workers come from India, who also include those employed by US companies such as Microsoft, Google and Facebook.

The pre-registration rule was proposed by the department of homeland security (DHS) — the parent ministry of the USCIS — in its regulatory plan for 2018 filed earlier this month. No operational details would be available till the rule is published in the federal register, which is expected in February.

The same regulatory plan also indicated that the administration was planning to withdraw an Obama-era rule that allows work-permits to spouses of H-1B visa-holders who are awaiting permanent residency, popularly known as green card.

This was in line with the Trump administration’s focus on preserving American jobs for Americans under the overarching Buy American, Hire American objective.

Driven by the same objective, the DHS also plans “a proposed rule that would revise the definition of specialty occupation to increase focus on truly obtaining the best and brightest foreign nationals via the H-1B program and would revise the definition of employment and employer-employee relationship to help better protect US workers and wages”.

Speciality immigration firms interpreted that to mean that during the selection of application, priority would be given to those with highest salaries, which is essentially a move intended to prevent US employers from hiring foreigners for low-paying jobs that could easily be filled, as critics of the H-1B visa programme have argued, with local hands.

Some of these changes are already underway — such as the high-speciality definition. A computer programmer, for instance, is not counted as highly skilled.

First Published: Dec 25, 2017 21:46 IST