President Barack Obama’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed a new rule Thursday that would blow the lid off the current cap on the number of foreign workers businesses can hire via the H-1B visa program.
Each year, demand for these temporary foreign workers far exceeds the supply — which is capped at 65,000 — but the proposed rule would exempt certain types of workers from that cap. Any business could hire an unlimited number of foreign workers on H-1Bs under the rule, so long as the workers spent 51 percent of their time working for a university, non-profit or government research agency.
The visas are intended to help companies bring in highly-skilled foreign workers for jobs Americans can’t fill, but some companies are reportedly using them to cut labor costs. The Walt Disney Company, Southern California Edison, Fossil Group and other companies have reportedly laid off hundreds of tech workers in the past year, replacing them with foreign workers on H-1B visas hired by contractors.
Businesses such as the Microsoft Corporation could use the new rule to hire an unlimited number of foreign workers on H-1Bs, by forming a partnership with a university in which the hired worker spends half the week at Microsoft and half the week at the university.
“It’s very clearly set up to be an end run around the caps that are supposed to be in place,” the Center for Immigration Studies’ Jessica Vaughan told The Daily Caller News Foundation Monday, referring to the H-1B provision of the rule. “And that’s going to hurt the workers.”
The H-1B measure is part of a 181-page proposal that would bypass federal immigration caps set by Congress to dramatically increase the number of foreign workers that can legally work in the country.
Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama characterized the rule as “another brazen, illegal executive action” in a statement Monday. “In a proposed federal rule published on New Year’s Eve, President Obama decreed that hundreds of thousands of additional foreign workers will be licensed to replace American workers at lower pay,” he said.
In addition to the H-1B measure, the rule would bypass the green card cap Congress set in place by granting renewable all-purpose work permits to foreign workers who have applied for green cards.
DHS said the new rule is a response to the massive visa backlog caused by a demand for work in the United States that far exceeds Congressional limits on the number of work permits the administration can issue each year.
Foreign workers who apply for a green card sometimes wait a decade or more for their application to be accepted or denied. Without an all-purpose work permit, those workers cannot switch jobs while they wait for their application to be processed, since their work authorization is tied to an employer-based visa.
“Simply put, many workers in the immigrant visa process are not free to consider all available employment and career development opportunities,” DHS said in the rule.”Many of these changes are primarily aimed at improving the ability of U.S. employers to hire and retain high-skilled workers …,” the agency added.
The new rule would allow businesses a sure way to hire unlimited numbers of foreign workers on H-1Bs, who are then eligible to apply for a green card. And any foreign worker in the country made eligible for a green card by the administration could secure a renewable work permit simply by applying for the card.
Green cards guarantee immigrants a lifetime work authorization, access to federal welfare, Social Security and Medicare, the ability to obtain citizenship and voting privileges as well as the immigration of their close relatives.
If federal law is not changed, the U.S. is on track to issue 10 million green cards over the next decade — a massive new permanent resident bloc that is larger than the combined populations of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. (RELATED: Chart: US Will Issue 10 Million Green Cards In Next Decade)
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