The Trump administration is looking to shield American workers from competition by cheap foreign labor with several potential changes to the U.S. non-immigrant visa system.
In a slate of proposals published last week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) introduced changes to visa regulations that would ensure only high-skilled foreigners are eligible for the H-1B visa program and, in certain cases, place tighter limits on the kinds of non-immigrant visa holders permitted to work in the U.S.
While the proposals are subject to change during a public comment period before final versions are promulgated, they indicate the Trump administration has no qualms about using its regulatory authority to reshape the guest worker system.
The proposed rules stem from a broader mandate under President Donald Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” order issued earlier this year. The order seeks to evaluate visa programs to ensure that American workers are not disadvantaged by the importation of foreign labor. It specifically directs DHS to review the H-1B visa program for abuse or adverse impacts on the domestic labor force.
Of the numerous visa-related proposals, the one drawing the most attention is a plan to rescind an Obama-era rule that allows the spouses of H-1B holders to work in the U.S., as well. Known as the H-4 work authorization, the rule was issued to “support the goals of attracting and retaining highly skilled foreign workers,” but critics say the program created another hidden source of foreign labor to compete with American workers.
DHS is also proposing modifications to how H-1B visas are allocated and what constitutes a “specialty occupation” in the program. Both changes would potentially reduce the number of jobs that can be filled by H-1B visa holders.
“The purpose of these changes is to ensure that H-1B visas are awarded only to individuals who will be working in a job which meets the statutory definition of specialty occupation,” one proposal stated. “In addition, these changes are intended to ensure that the H-1B program supplements the U.S. workforce and strengthens U.S. worker protections.”
Other proposals include tightening rules on which non-immigrant students can be employed and withdrawing the so-called International Entrepreneur (IE) rule, an Obama administration program that allows certain immigrant business owners to attain “parole” status to live and work in the U.S. if they have fast-growing companies.
DHS delayed the implementation the IE rule earlier this year, but a recent federal court decision ordered immigration authorities to begin accepting applications for parole status. DHS’s regulatory proposal would rescind the IE program altogether.
John Miano, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies and a skeptic of guest worker programs, says the proposed regulatory agenda is a welcome change from that of Trump’s predecessors.
“This is the first time in decades American workers could look at such an agenda and not cringe,” he wrote in a blog post Tuesday. “The Bush administration used immigration regulations to assault working Americans and President Obama appeared to take joy in using them to run over American workers.”
“Under President Trump, all of the administrative actions are for the benefit of American workers,” Miano added.
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