The Trump administration on Tuesday outlined new rules tightening restrictions placed on guest worker visa programs, including the H-1B program favored by tech industry firms.
The rules tighten eligibility around foreign workers, so employers must meet more stringent criteria around the jobs they’re hiring for and how much they’re paying. That may make it harder for companies to sponsor H-1B visas and hire foreign workers as part of the annual lottery that awards 60,000 new slots every year, not including renewals for existing visa holders. The new rules follow a June order from President Donald Trump suspending a range of guest worker visa programs through the end of the year, with the White House citing domestic job losses during the COVID-19 pandemic as the motivator.
The Trump administration says the goal is to ensure companies that rely on guest worker visas can’t use those programs to replace American workers with cheaper foreign labor. “For too long, this program has been misused as an inexpensive labor program, replacing American jobs in the process,” reads a White House press release issued late Tuesday. “These critical reforms will improve the quality of the H-1B program without changing the annual statutory cap for H-1B visas.”
In addition to shrinking the pool of available roles that qualify for an H-1B and requiring companies pay visa holders at higher rates similar to US workers, the new rules also reduce the amount of time a worker can be placed at a third-party worksite, from three years to one year.
This means that if a company is not hiring a foreign worker to work at its headquarters or primary place of business, it can no longer keep those employees in the country longer than 12 months without a renewal. (Two of the top five firms awarded the most H-1B visas in 2019 are Indian IT and consulting companies that operate offices in the US but are based overseas.)
Google, one of the fiercest critics of the Trump administration’s immigration restrictions and a top 10 H-1B visa sponsor, condemned the White House’s earlier restrictions in June as a ploy to target immigrants. “Immigrants have not only fueled technological breakthroughs and created new businesses and jobs but have also enriched American life,” Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda said at the time. “America’s continued success depends on companies having access to the best talent from around the world. Particularly now, we need that talent to help contribute to America’s economic recovery.”