The Trump administration is considering rules for the H-1B visa program for high-tech workers that would prevent the visas from being extended.
The change is apparently intended to force the recipients, which number in the hundreds of thousands, to return to their country of origin before they could complete green card applications to stay in the U.S.
The proposed change was reported by the McClatchy newspaper chain, citing two anonymous sources briefed on the plan, which is being prepared by officials at the Department of Homeland Security. "The idea is to create a sort of 'self-deportation' of hundreds of thousands of Indian tech workers in the United States to open up those jobs for Americans," one source told McClatchy.
Jonathan Withington, spokesman for the DHS' U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, would neither confirm nor deny the report. "The agency is considering a number of policy and regulatory changes to carry out the President’s Buy American, Hire American Executive Order, including a thorough review of employment-based visa programs. We are not at liberty to discuss any part of the pre-decisional processes," he told the Washington Examiner.
He added that the agency was focused on "protecting the interests of U.S. workers, and is committed to reforming employment-based immigration programs so they benefit the American people to the greatest extent possible."
The administration has been looking for ways to scale back the visa program, which is used by companies to bring in high-skilled employees to work in fields such as software development. In a December notice, DHS said it would consider limiting the ability of spouses of H-1B holders to be eligible to work in the U.S.
DHS gives out 85,000 visas a year. U.S. companies laud the program, saying it helps fill jobs that likely would go unfilled without them. Unions that represent high-tech workers dispute that, charging that companies like the workers because they can pay them less than American workers with the same skills.
"If the year-to-year extensions are canceled, employers may sponsor fewer H-1B workers for permanent status. Employers may also prefer workers from countries with shorter waiting times, such as Korea," said Stan Sorscher, a labor representative with the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace. "Eliminating the extensions will make H-1B workers more precarious and more at risk than they already are. This speaks to the basic design flaw in the H-1B program — that it makes foreign workers completely dependent on their employers."
There is bipartisan support for the changes. The House Judiciary Committee passed legislation by voice vote in November authored by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., that would set minimum salaries for visa recipients at $90,000 per year if the employers cannot demonstrate that they tried to hire native-born workers instead. It also would prohibit employers from replacing American workers with foreign workers.