The government will be cracking down on employers that fraudulently use visas to hire cheap labor, according to an announcement Monday morning from US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Monday was also the first day people could start applying for H-1B visas, or “skilled” US visas, which large tech companies including Google, Microsoft, and Facebook rely on to hire engineering talent from overseas.
"The Trump administration will be enforcing laws protecting American workers from discriminating hiring practices," said Sean Spicer regarding the H-1B program during a press briefing on Monday.
According to the announcement, USCIS will focus its crackdown on companies that are hard to find public information on, that apply for visas for employees who work at an offsite location, and/or that are H-1B visa dependent.
Being H-1B dependent means 15% or more of your workforce is on a high-skilled work visa; Facebook, for example, is H-1B visa dependent. A spokesperson for the company didn’t immediately respond to request for comment.
In tech, the vast majority of H-1B visas go to consulting firms like Wipro, Tata, and Infosys, which would be the most heavily impacted by a crackdown on the visa program. Representatives of those firms did not immediately respond to a BuzzFeed News request for comment.
During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump threatened to get rid of the skilled visa program entirely. Since then, his view on the issue seems to have tempered. (He’s also met with tech executives, some of whom are now his advisers.) More recently, the administration has said it wants to stop H-1B visa fraud — when companies use visas to access cheap foreign labor rather than to fill jobs they can’t find qualified American workers to do — while continuing to allow the highest-skilled workers from other countries into the US.
But Trump ultimately didn’t reduce the maximum number of visas made available to employers this year.
“The H-1B visa program should help U.S. companies recruit highly-skilled foreign nationals when there is a shortage of qualified workers in the country,” Monday’s news release reads. “Yet, too many American workers who are as qualified, willing, and deserving to work in these fields have been ignored or unfairly disadvantaged. Protecting American workers by combating fraud in our employment-based immigration programs is a priority for USCIS.”
Meanwhile, on Friday, USCIS published a memo that will require employers to provide extra proof that computer programmers are, in fact, high-skilled workers deserving of jobs in the US, Bloomberg reported Monday. (A spokesperson for USCIS told Bloomberg that the memo does not reflect “a change in policy.”)
A vocal subset of American computer programmers argue that the H-1B visa program, which was started in 1990, made it possible for companies to lay off American workers and replace them with lower-paid immigrants. There’s evidence this has occurred at Disney and UCSF, and smaller employers found to be engaging in such activities have recently been indicted.
To accomplish its goal, USCIS set up an email address, ReportH1BAbuse@uscis.dhs.gov, where US workers who observe fraud — as well as immigrants who believe they’re being exploited — can report abuse. The immigration agency will also “continue random and unannounced visits” to workplaces where H-1B holders are employed across the country.
“This may weed out some shady employers” who were in the process of filing H-1B petitions this week, immigration lawyer Emily Lopez Neumann told BuzzFeed News in an email. “It may also make it more difficult for legitimate employers to get the workers they need.”
Most high-skilled immigrants working in the US come from China and India, and many have been waiting anxiously for news on how the Trump administration would deal with the high-skilled visa program. Earlier this year, talk of congressional H-1B visa reform caused Indian tech firms to lose more than $7 billion in value in a single hour.
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